Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Review: Marriage Story (2019)

With his new Netflix-produced film Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach has crafted an emotional powderkeg.  Starring Scarlet Johanssen and Adam Driver as a 30-something couple going through an ugly divorce, Marriage Story is an understated, at times upsetting, family drama that shows us the best and worst of a generally likable husband and wife.

The film doesn't exactly take sides, though the husband Charlie spends the first act mostly being blindsided after his wife Nicole hires a high-powered attorney (a stellar Laura Dern), who convinces her client that Charlie needs to be punished for an extramarital affair and his to-a-fault devotion to his work.  Nicole wants a divorce because she feels like she has nothing of her own in the marriage; Charlie is a successful New York theater director and she is his leading lady, but she's got a television pilot on the table in LA, setting up an impasse.  Initially the pair agree to an amicable, lawyer-free divorce, but Nicole brings in Dern's shark, and the couple's friendliness devolves quickly.

The second act largely involves Charlie flying back and forth, trying to balance west coast time with his son Henry (Nicole, via her lawyer, is threatening to take away custody) with an upcoming Broadway run for his play.  Forced to hire his own attorney, Charlie initially consults a rival shark (played by a scenery-chewing Ray Liotta) but realizes he can't afford $900 an hour plus a $25k retainer, and instead hires a semi-retired, thrice divorced lawyer played by Alan Alda, who's seen the process "bring out the worst in good people" and urges Charlie to acquiese to Nicole's demands.  Despite this obviously overwhelming pressure, compounded by Henry's apparent lack of interest in spending quality time with him, Charlie mostly tries to roll with the punches and make the best of things.  But the cracks begin to show when it becomes apparent that he'll need to establish permanent residence in Los Angeles or risk losing Henry altogether.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Parents' Night mINi: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Welcome to a special short bonus PNI episode, or Parents' Night mINi, as Kelly & Justin discuss the beloved TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas!  We'll talk about our history with this special, why it's still required annual viewing, the magic we used to feel at Christmastime (that sadly goes away as an adult), and Linus's habit of thumb sucking...

Crack open a cold drink and enjoy this special episode!  Don't forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE!

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Movie Review: Star Wars - The Rise of Skywalker

And with that, the Skywalker Saga has come to a bittersweet end.  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth episode in the series and the eleventh live-action Star Wars film overall, has garnered pretty shockingly tepid reviews, but not from this guy.  I liked it.  A lot.

JJ Abrams is back to close the trilogy he opened, given the unenviable task of reconciling the story threads in his safe crowdpleaser The Force Awakens with Rian Johnson's subversive, divisive (but pretty excellent) The Last Jedi.  Given the divergent approaches of the two directors - one offers total deference to the original trilogy, the other trolls fanboys somewhat - it's kind of miraculous that Abrams was able to weave it all together in a satisfying way.  This film ties up not only this trilogy, but the nine overall episodes, lending meaning and explanation to elements of TFA and TLJ, and striking a through-line of sorts all the way back to the events of the prequels.  Several reviewers have complained of JJ retconning some of Rian's narrative choices, but there's really only one element that could even be called retconning, and only, as Obi-Wan once put it "from a certain point of view."  JJ provides answers to all the important questions raised in the first two films and resolves the dramatic tension pretty beautifully overall.

As always I won't go into spoilers, and to that end I won't even reveal many plot details; to describe the main story arc would be saying too much (Few blockbusters can be described that way, so kudos to Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio for such ingenuity).  A more fitting way to discuss the story is to talk about the characters.  Rey and Kylo, the heart of this trilogy and two of the most compelling Star Wars characters ever created, confront their destinies, their choices, and each other, with stirring emotional results (Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver once again deliver wonderful, show stealing performances).  Poe Dameron further grows into his role as a natural leader and we learn more about his past.  Finn the former Stormtrooper finally embraces his latent heroism and becomes an inspiration to others.  We get a few new characters, one of which I found an adorable throwback to some of the creatures in the original trilogy.  There are some major story turns, some expected, some not.  And of course we get the obligatory Star Wars action set pieces, though this film is surprisingly driven more by characters than by action, which I appreciated; characters and emotion.  I found myself legitimately choked up four or five times during this movie, and that's another testament to Abrams, Johnson and the various screenwriters for creating characters that are easily invested in.

Was the movie perfect?  No, but let's be honest, none of them are.  TROS, like every Star Wars film, has clunky expository dialogue, some scenes that aren't given enough time to breathe, and a few plot contrivances.  But none of these minor gripes were enough to take me out of the mood.  Like the original trilogy, the characters are so relatable and compelling, and the pure filmmaking so visually stunning and immersive, they carried me through whatever storytelling flaws were present.  I daresay TROS was a stronger third act for this trilogy than Return of the Jedi was for that one. 

Whatever the fanbase's complaints, and they always have plenty, The Rise of Skywalker is another very strong entry in the Star Wars mythos, lovingly crafted by an obviously devoted fan aiming to guide the series to safe and satisfying landing.  Could Abrams have taken more risks?  Yes.  Would I be interested in seeing how Johnson would've handled this chapter?  Absolutely.  But for the most part TROS does a very admirable job of bringing it all home and answering our myriad questions.  All in all, this trilogy has been a breath of fresh Star Wars air after the disastrous prequels, and I can't wait to watch them back-to-back-to-back (If I ever find seven consecutive free hours to do so).  The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting, affecting conclusion to this 40-plus-year-old saga.

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

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Parents' Night In #27: It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the Greatest Christmas Movie

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, yadda yadda yadda!  Justin & Kelly are back to discuss their favorite Christmas movie, the one that makes them wanna bawl their eyes out at least a dozen times, Frank Capra's masterpiece It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed!

It's a Wonderful Life
has been a part of our lives since we were kids, and decades later we've found new ways to relate to this film about a good man who falls into despair.  It's a must-watch for us every holiday season and we're happy to share our thoughts with all of you!

Sit back, relax, grab a drink, and laugh and cry with us as we watch It's a Wonderful Life!

And don't forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wrestling Do-Overs: The Invasion Angle, part 4 (King of the Ring 2001)

It's time to build to the 2001 King of the Ring!  Check out Part 3 if you missed it....

To read this series from the beginning, click HERE

King of the Ring

The next night on RAW, Vince announces that he is seeking legal action against Bischoff and WCW, and once again assures the audience that WCW talent will never again appear on WWF television.  Shane McMahon interrupts and tells Vince he is embarrassed by how badly Vince has handled this crisis.  Had Shane been in charge of the WWF, he'd have smoked out the WCW contigent long ago and challenged them to an all-out war.  "Dammit, you're Vincent Kennedy McMahon!  Are you scared WCW might actually win?  Over the collection of talent we have??"  Vince looks down, despondent, unsure what to do.  Shane slaps him across the face and begins to berate him, which brings out Kurt Angle to Vince's defense.  "How dare you slap this man?  He is your father, and my friend!  Anyone who questions Vince's manhood will have to answer to me!"  Vince tries to calm the situation down but Angle jumps on Shane and pummels him.  Vince pulls Angle off and yells at him.  Angle says, comically, "I was helping you!"

The KOTR tournament starts, and plays out mostly like it did in real life.  Over the next couple weeks it boils down to Angle, Edge, Christian and Rhyno.

Steve Austin petitions Vince for another match against Booker, but Vince unequivocally refuses to sanction another match with any WCW talent.  Instead he sets up a gauntlet match, with Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Undertaker, Kane, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.  The match starts with Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy.  Jeff wins with a Twist of Fate after seven minutes.  Then Kane enters and Jeff beats him with a Swanton after six minutes.  Triple H is next, and he gets caught by surprise with a rollup after three minutes.  Jericho is next and he dispatches an exhausted Jeff with a Lionsault after five minutes.  Undertaker is next, and they have a helluva big man-little man match, where Jericho counters a Last Ride with an over-the-top sunset flip after ten minutes.  Finally Benoit enters, and it's a classic technical match.  After twelve minutes Benoit hits a German suplex and the ref counts three.  But its revealed that both men's shoulders were down.  The show goes off the air with no official decision.

Over the coming weeks Angle pesters Vince to let him fight Shane at King of the Ring.  Vince says, "No, you're already in the tournament."  Angle kisses up to Vince, saying what Shane said was way out of line.  Shane cuts another promo saying he would love to fight Angle.  To make it interesting he proposes that if he wins, he gets control over the WWF, and will deal with WCW in the most aggressive manner possible, which is what Vince should've done if he really had "grapefruits."  Vince finally says, "You think you have the grapefruits to beat an Olympic gold medalist AND run this company?  Fine!  But whatever Angle does to you is out of my hands."  Shane agrees, and also proposes a Street Fight, so there's no excuses.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Top Ten Things: December PPV Matches

Welcome to another December-themed Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about my ten favorite December PPV matches.  Aside from WCW's Starrcade, December has generally been a month for B-level PPVs and few Match of the Year candidates.  But there have most definitely been exceptions, both from WWE and other promotions.  One match I really would've liked to include in this list is Ric Flair & Barry Windham vs. The Midnight Express from Clash of the Champions IV.  But that wasn't a PPV, it was a special TV event, so I had to leave it out.  Anyway, here's my top ten December PPV matches of all time.

10. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle - WWF Vengeance  - 12.9.01

The first of the WWF/WCW Title Unification semi-final bouts, this pitted WWF Champ Austin against arch-nemesis Kurt Angle, in a repeat of their SummerSlam and Unforgiven 2001 battles.  This time though, Austin was back to being the top babyface and Angle was the heel.  There wasn't anything fancy about this, it was just an excellently-worked old-school wrestling match.  While not at the level of their amazing SummerSlam bout, Austin and Angle nontheless put on a helluva show, culminating in Austin reversing a Stunner attempt and countering with his own to retain the strap and advance to the Finals.

9. CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. The Miz - WWE TLC - 12.18.11

CM Punk's first PPV defense in his 434-day WWE Title run may have been against two less-than-threatening opponents (Miz especially was coming off a two-month burial), but that didn't take away from this exciting TLC match.  All three men worked hard to make this innovative and unpredictable.  Punk was handcuffed to a ladder and later to one of the turnbuckles, creating suspense about how he'd get out of this one with his Title intact.  Punk got to play the role of "smart babyface" (which sadly doesn't happen often) and after unscrewing one of the ring ropes, he GTSed Miz on his way to victory.

8. Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero - WWE Armageddon - 12.15.02

During the Smackdown Six Era, the two most accomplished former Radicalz met at Armageddon in a no-frills, old-fashioned wrestling match that stole the show.  Benoit and Guerrero had wrestled each other dozens of times in the past, and this fit right into their considerable catalog.  While slightly marred by Chavo's unsuccessful interference attempts and a couple of early miscues, this was still a fine bout with a suspenseful submission finish.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Top Ten Things: Wrestling PPVs of the 2010s

Welcome to a special Decade-End Top Ten Things, here at!  It's the end of the two-aught-tens, so therefore it's time to start counting down the best stuff of the decade.  Stay tuned for several more lists like this in the coming weeks, but for right now let's talk about wrestling PPVs!

Pro wrestling is and always has been a rapidly changing industry, but not since the late 90s has an era been so tumultuous as this one.  At the start of the decade WWE was the one big game in town, TNA was foolishly trying to reignite the Monday Night War, Ring of Honor was coping with the loss of some of its top stars, and NJPW was just beginning to dig itself out of financial ruin thanks to a hot new main eventer named Hiroshi Tanahashi.  Fast-forward ten years and WWE has two major global competitors and a "developmental" brand that consistently outshines the main roster, Impact is creatively improving but lacks star power, ROH has become the new TNA, and pro wrestling as an art form has evolved beyond where anyone thought possible in 2009.  From a talent standpoint WWE boasts perhaps the greatest wrestling roster ever assembled (though on RAW and Smackdown they still don't know what to do with most of them), while New Japan has become the template for combining thrilling in-ring action with detail-oriented storytelling, and building new stars.  Meanwhile All Elite Wrestling is hoping to create a true North American alternative to WWE's monopoly, and NXT is now the most exciting piece of WWE programming.  We're in the midst of a new ratings war, as AEW and NXT duke it out every Wednesday night, while New Japan accomplished something WWE hadn't in years - selling out Madison Square Garden.  It's an exciting, sometimes frustrating, often breathtaking time to be a wrestling fan, and the 2020s promise no shortage of surprises.

But now let's talk about the best PPVs of the 2010s.  From 2010-2019 WWE was hit-or-miss as always, but managed to mine a handful of gems, NXT TakeOver specials rarely scored below an 8/10 for me, and New Japan, bless 'em, smashed the mold into oblivion, producing some of the best PPV events mine eyes have ever seen.  Word of warning, this list is extremely New Japan-heavy.  So let's get to it, but first a few Honorable Mentions...

HM: NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2012 - New Japan's earliest candidate for "best show ever," which would be upstaged easily a dozen times over the next seven years.

HM: WrestleMania XXX - Nicknamed YEStleMania, this show was centered around Daniel Bryan's journey to the WWE Title.

HM: AEW Full Gear - All Elite's best show so far boasted four ****+ matches and a fantastic heel turn.

10. WWE SummerSlam 2013

WWE's one real standout PPV of 2013 was essentially a three-match show, but a) those three matches included the company's two best of the year, and b) the remaining four bouts totaled 27 minutes of in-ring time.  What this show is remembered for is its double main event, a thrilling no disqualification war of attrittion between CM Punk and Brock Lesnar (still Brock's best match since his 2012 return) and a gutsy MOTY-caliber WWE Title contest between John Cena and the white-hot underdog Daniel Bryan that began his months-long quest to become the unlikely face of the company.  Icing on this cake included a very strong Alberto Del Rio-Christian World Title match and a few solid undercard bouts including Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow, and Dolph Ziggler vs. Big E.  WWE's product in 2013 was as inconsistent as ever, but on this night they delivered a classic show.

9. WWE Money in the Bank 2011

2011 was the Summer of Punk in WWE, and while the followup to this stellar PPV was unfathomably stupid and damaging to the megastar CM Punk had suddenly become, there's no taking away from what an incredible moment Money in the Bank 2011 represented.  It started with the June 27th "pipe bomb" promo to close RAW, where Punk, set to leave the company in three weeks, challenged John Cena to a WWE Title match on his way out and aired his grievances with a promotion that had taken him for granted.  From then on he became a cult anti-hero, and on July 17th, in front of his hometown crowd, he and Cena had a career-defining main event match that saw Punk unseat Vince's posterboy and abscond with the company's top championship.  Of course the company totally failed to stick the landing with this storyline, simply replacing Punk as the champion with Rey Mysterio and then Cena again a week later, leading to a champion vs. champion rematch at SummerSlam (after which Kevin Nash inexplicably showed up to screw Punk out of the title).  But this main event was good enough to render Punk a made man for the rest of his WWE run, plus it featured two excellent MITB Ladder Matches, won by rising star Daniel Bryan and WWE favorite Alberto Del Rio.  This show represented a temporary shift away from Vince pushing HIS favorites and paying more attention to his audience, and it has to be considered the best main roster show of the decade.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

WWE TLC 2019 Preview & Predictions

It's time once again to predict a WWE PPV that the company has deemed unworthy of announcing a full lineup ahead of time.  This Sunday is the annual Tables, Ladders & Chairs event, and we have a terribly underwhelming seven matches announced three days out.  Missing are several of the company's top stars, such as Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Bayley, and others.  I don't understand what this company is doing anymore.

So yeah, just like with Hell in a Cell two months ago, WWE is taking for granted that their audience will watch a minor PPV event sight-partly-unseen.  Seven matches is better than three, but how hard is it to plan three weeks of television so that the entire card can be made clear by the final week?  I'm assuming the obvious Rollins-Owens match isn't happening yet, even though it's been set up already.  Kinda like Roman vs. Bryan should've happened at either SummerSlam or Clash of Champions.  The way this company works I fully expect Rollins and Owens to be teaming together in two months...

Let's get this over with.

Aleister Black vs. Buddy Murphy

After six-plus months of literally doing nothing with the guy, they're finally giving Aleister a goddamn PPV match.  And it's against a more-than-capable opponent, so I expect good things out of this.  'Course they'll probably end up bumping it to the pre-show just to piss me off.  But as of now this is one of three matches I'm interested in.

Pick: Black obviously wins this

Tables Match: Bobby Lashley vs. Rusev

Jeezus H. Christ do I not give a shit about this.  WWE should just stop doing love triangle-type angles; I'm pretty sure the only good one ever was Triple H-Steph-Angle, which still ended badly.  This feud has been full of nonsensical crap, like Lashley being arrested after Rusev violated his restraining order.  On top of all that, Tables Matches are dumb.

Pick: I hope it's Rusev so this nonsense can finally end.  It's been what, three months?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ten Christmas Gifts That Changed My Life

What's up folks?  Well it's Christmastime, and that means hanging lights, trimming trees, and buying presents for your loved ones so they can promptly return 'em to the store on the 26th.  But this time of year always triggers childhood memories of how magical it all used to be.  The seemingly endless suspense of wondering what cool shit your parents/Santa was gonna leave you, the seemingly endless get-togethers with the extended family on Christmas Day, while you're bored shitless just waiting to get back to all your new toys, the seemingly instantaneous week off from school before that sad, lonely return on January 2nd, when you and your school friends compared Christmas toy hauls.

And speaking of Christmas toys, I got to thinking, what were my favorite gifts over the years?  Which December 25th surprises made my big toe shoot up in my boot, as Little Richard would say?  Well lemme take you back to a simpler time.....

1978: Muppet Drum Kit

My big Christmas gift at age three was a toy drum set with pictures of the Muppet Show band Dr. Teeth on it.  I fell in love with this stupid kit instantly, and while I never actually learned to play the drums, I had a grand ol' time beating the crap outta those skins.  It outlived its novelty and usefulness within a couple years, but this was the fist major gift I ever remember getting.  For me it's what set the tone for this massive December festival so many of us hold dear.

1982: Atari 2600

I imagine my household was one of millions that got this console for Christmas around this time.  Our big family gift in 1982 was the legendary Atari 2600, which came with the incredibly diverse Combat (featuring tank battles, airplane battles, boat battles, and any other 4-bit vehicles you could blow up real good), but my parents also picked up Asteroids, Surround (which I loved because it was essentially Tron's "light cycle" sequence), and Video Olympics (a massive collection of sports games that utilized the "paddle" controllers), plus a couple other games I can't recall at the moment.  This console became our very lives for a few years, and the whole family enjoyed it.  Everyone who was anyone in the early 80s had one of these damn things, and the game cartridges were plentiful.  By 1985 we had probably 30 games, and it wasn't until '86/'87 that another game console had taken its place in America's heart....

1982: Castle Grayskull

My other big gift in '82 was this classic He-Man playset, a badass-looking castle with a ton of accessories but in retrospect, very little playability (A castle with only two floors?  And an elevator??  And a laser cannon???  The hell sense does that make?).  But at age 7 I didn't care, this thing was fuckin' fantastic.  I had a handful of the figures by this point and played with this castle like it was my job.  A few years later Snake Mountain followed and now I had lairs for both the heroes and villains.  Now that I think about it, who exactly was supposed to live in Castle Grayskull?  Was it He-Man's house?  I dunno.

Seriously, why would an ancient castle have an elevator??

Monday, December 9, 2019

Wrestling Do-Overs: The Invasion Angle, part 3 (Judgment Day 2001)

Continuing into May 2001.  Check out Part 2 if you missed it.....

To read this series from the beginning, click HERE

Judgment Day

Austin shows up on RAW and talks about Booker T's challenge, saying he'll fight anyone who wants to try and take the belt away from him.  "Why don't we find out who the Undisputed Champion is, ya dumb sonofabitch?"  Vince interrupts to a chorus of boos and says everyone should calm down because Austin vs. Booker T is not happening.  "Not tonight, not any night.  Why?  Because WCW superstars don't deserve to wrestle in this ring.  They haven't earned that right, and I don't sanction B-players from a second-rate company competing against WWF Superstars."  Austin asks the crowd "If you wanna see this WWF Superstar kick the crap outta the WCW Champion at Judgment Day, gimme a 'Hell yeah!'"  The crowd of course obliges.  Vince again puts the kibosh on Austin vs. Booker.  "I'm still the boss, and I decide who your opponent for Judgment Day will be.  Tonight, in this very ring, we'll see a Battle Royal to determine the new #1 Contender!"

Elsewhere on the show, Undertaker and Kane defeat The Dudley Boyz in a Tag Title match, before DDP & Kanyon show up on the Titantron again, challenging them for the belts.

The #1 Contender's Battle Royal boils down to Triple H, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle.  Benoit and Angle take each other out of the match, grappling until they both go over the ropes.  But before Hunter and Jericho can determine a winner, the masked men surround the ring again, pausing a moment before laying waste to the two WWF stars.  Booker and Bischoff unmask, Bischoff grabs a mic and says, "Vince, this is gonna happen every week until you give my WCW Champion a match with your WWF Champion!"  The WWF locker room runs down again but the WCW crew retreats.

The following week Triple H wins the rescheduled #1 Contender's Battle Royal.

But in the weeks leading up to Judgment Day Austin continues pushing the issue of wanting to fight Booker, while Vince keeps resisting.  Security is beefed up to prevent further WCW interference but several attacks on WWF wrestlers happen outside the building.  DDP and Kanyon assault the APA at a bar, smashing them with beer glasses.  Booker T knocks Rikishi out with a shovel and slams a car door on him.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Top Ten Things: Christmas Movies

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  These are ten things I like or don't like, and I'm here to tell you about 'em.  Makes sense.

Today it's my ten favorite Christmas movies!  As one who has loved the holiday season since childhood, a big part of my celebrating is in the form of watching Christmas-themed movies.  Some are required viewing every December, while others I only revisit once in a while.  But they all help me get in the ol' holiday mood.

Some notes about this list - I'm only including movies where Christmas itself figures heavily in the plot.  There are a lot of films simply set against the backdrop of the Christmas season, and while some of those are great (Die Hard and Lethal Weapon for example), I don't really consider them Christmas movies in the strictest sense.  So I've limited the list to films that couldn't really work without the Christmas theme/imagery.

Also I'm not including the standard half-hour TV specials from back in the day.  The Grinch, Charlie Brown and Rudolph are all great, but they're TV shows, not movies.  So there.

Finally there are three beloved movies you won't find on this list: A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and Christmas Vacation.  I hate all of them.  I know most people think they're essential viewing, but I can't stand them.  I find them pretty cynical and unpleasant, which defeats the whole purpose of watching a Christmas movie.  Sorry.

On to the list!

10. Elf

Jon Favreau's 2003 Christmas romp stars Will Ferrell as a Buddy, a human who stowed away in Santa's bag as a baby, and was raised as a North Pole elf.  As Buddy grows to adulthood he begins to realize he doesn't fit in with the other elves, and he seeks out his birth father, a grumpy New York publishing executive played by James Caan.  Filled with lighthearted humor and Ferrell's signature flair for physical comedy, Elf is a classic Fish Out of Water story involving Buddy finding his way in the human world while also managing to save Christmas.  The film peters out toward the end for me, as there's too much emphasis on Santa being chased through Central Park by the NYPD.  But otherwise Elf is a fun little holiday movie that has something for everyone.

9. Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton's cult classic Edward Scissorhands stars Johnny Depp as the titular character, a Dr. Caligari-inspired artificial man whose inventor died before he could be finished, leaving him with scissors where his fingers should be.  This of course makes for a very inconvenient existence (As Seinfeld's barber pointed out, "What's he gonna do on-a the toilet?"), and after moving in with Dianne Wiest and her family he becomes a suburban outcast.  This film, like most of Tim Burton's work, takes place in a visually bizarre world full of social misfits and outsiders.  But even among these weirdos Edward doesn't fit in, and the ultimate result is a bittersweet and surprisingly touching love story.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Parents' Night In #26: Die Hard - Is It a Christmas Movie or Not?

It's that time of year, when the eternal debate begins again: #IsDieHardAChristmasMovie?  Kelly and Justin are back to address that and more, as we watch the legendary 80s action classic starring #BruceWillis, #AlanRickman and #ReginaldVeljohnson.  It's time to watch #DieHard!

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Parents' Night In #15: Rocky (1976) - The Podcast

It's Thanksgiving, so why not go back and take another listen to our special Parents' Night In episode about the classic film Rocky!

Check out our podcast episode version at Apple Podcasts:

For Spotify:

For Pocket Casts:

For the YouTube version:

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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