Thursday, October 22, 2020

Top Ten Things: Hell in a Cell Matches

Hey there, and welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!  

Today's list is all about the most demonic of wrestling gimmick matches, Hell in a Cell.  Introduced by the WWF in 1997, HIAC expanded on the traditional Steel Cage match by surrounding the entire ringside area with the volatile mesh structure.  They also covered the whole thing with a roof, trapping the combatants inside but giving them enough room to utilize the numerous unforgiving surfaces and weapons found outside the ring.  The result was one of the most brutal recurring stipulations in the history of the business, where only the most personal and heated of rivalries would be settled.  2009 saw the creation of a Hell in a Cell-themed PPV, which undermined the severity of such a gimmick match by making it an annual tradition instead of a feud-ender.  Regardless of its recently history though, Hell in a Cell still remains one of the most intriguing special attractions in WWE.

Here are my picks for the ten greatest HIAC matches of all time....

10. Batista vs. Triple H - Vengeance - 6.26.05

After two rather lackluster efforts at WrestleMania 21 and Backlash, Hunter and Big Dave finally delivered a classic inside the hellacious cage.  This was a bloody, grueling fight that ran over 26 minutes and finally solidified Batista as Triple H's conqueror.  These two made innovative use of weapons, as well as the ol' cage walls to create a shockingly good Cell bout.  When it was over, the torch had finally been passed to Batista, who along with John Cena became one of the faces of the company.

9. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose - Hell in a Cell - 10.26.14

After multiple years of underwhelming HIAC matches two young, hungry stars took the gimmick back up a notch at the 2014 event.  Mortal enemies Ambrose and Rollins followed up their unruly SummerSlam Lumberjack match with this brutal, chaotic fight that kicked off atop the structure.  After about ten minutes of crazy brawling leading to both men falling through announce tables (the first spot like that since the Mick Foley years), the match officially resumed inside the cage, and 13 minutes later Rollins took advantage of Bray Wyatt's (hokey) interference to win the bout.

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

Welcome to another Frankenstein-related Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!  Continuing with the Universal Studios franchise, we've arrived at the first cross-over film in the series, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr and Bela Lugosi.  If you missed our Ghost of Frankenstein review, click HERE.

FMTWM served as both a continuation of Ghost of Frankenstein (review HERE) and the 1941 classic The Wolf Man, and the studio wasn't coy about the two characters' eventual showdown.  The story here finds The Wolf Man Lawrence Talbot accidentally brought back to life and searching for a way to kill himself.  His travels take him to the old Frankenstein castle, where the monster is somehow still alive.  This barebones plot is just a way to get the two monsters in the same room so they can fight.  Not unlike a certain DC Comics crossover film released a few years back....

Anyway, there is unabashedly little substance to this movie but the filmmakers at least found ways to make it visually engaging, and its 74-minute running time flies by.  So let's take a look at the pluses and negatives of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man....

The Awesome

Dutch Angles

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, despite its obvious status as an early schlock film, is actually pretty visually stunning, in part due to extensive Dutch angles to create a sense of being off-balance.  Unlike Ghost, which featured flat angles and drab cinematography, the filmmakers here made a conscious effort to at least draw the viewer in with the visuals.

Crooked cameras.....

Use of Shadows

In the same vein, this movie has a distinctly Expressionist look, with intense shadows that add to the gothic flavor.  There may be very little going on plot-wise, but this is damn sure a fun movie to look at.

Nice, atmospheric sets in this movie

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

WWE Hell in a Cell 2020 Preview & Predictions

What is it with Hell in a Cell PPVs nowadays?  This is the second year in a row WWE has only announced four matches as of a few days before the show.  And we all know how that went last year, don't we?  What the fuck, with this company....

Anyway, Hell in a Cell 2020 is in four days, so I guess let's pick the winners for the half-card they've been gracious enough to announce.  There's really only one match on this show I'm interested in and that's the three-years-in-the-making Bayley vs. Sasha match.

Jeff Hardy vs. Elias

So as I understand it, Sheamus attacked Elias backstage but framed Jeff Hardy for it, and now Elias wants to fight Jeff.  Even though we know for a fact that it was actually Sheamus.  Is that right?  This has gotta be the stupidest-ever basis for a feud, and I was around in 1995 when Jean-Pierre LaFitte stole Bret Hart's jacket (that his mom supposedly made for him, because moms are good at fashioning leather garments...).  At least that feud yielded two really good matches.  This isn't gonna be that.  Elias stinks and Jeff is beyond irrelevant in 2020.  Who gives a turd?

Pick: Jeff wins I guess?

Universal Championship Hell in a Cell: Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso

This is one of two Cell matches where the challenger has already lost to the champion.  So therefore let's have a rematch in the most brutal gimmick structure.  Makes sense.  Man do I miss the days when Hell in a Cell was about settling a blood feud and not "Hey, it's October again!"  Anyone who thinks Jey Uso has a snowball's chance in Guatemala, I have several bridges to sell you.  In Guatemala.

Pick: Anyone with brains knows Roman Reigns retains

Awesomely Shitty Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 - Dream Warriors

Welcome to another Awesomely Shitty Movies column here at, where I take another look at a childhood favorite and talk about why parts of it don't hold up and in some cases make me cringe.  Some of you will probably hate me...

It's Halloween season, so I'm watching a lot of horror movies, and today I'm revisiting a classic of the cheesy 80s horror genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors!  I came by this series just as this film was being released in early 1987; a friend in junior high school was a slasher film fanatic and used to bring in issues of Fangoria for me to read (Goddamn, that magazine ruled).  I'd heard of A Nightmare on Elm Street and its first sequel from my older siblings but knew zero about them until my schoolmate showed me pictures of the burnt guy with the finger-knives.  Immediately I was fascinated - what kind of an imagination came up with this creepo??  My friend also had a copy of the novelization The Nightmares on Elm Street, Parts 1, 2 and 3, as well as the Nightmare on Elm Street Companion coffee table book (which I still have).  I rushed out to buy both books, having never seen any of the films, and dove in head-first.  I soon rented the first movie and loved it, rented the second and just sorta liked it, and couldn't wait to see the third once it dropped on VHS (Being under 17 I didn't have a parent/guardian available/interested in accompanying me to the theater for this movie/film).  Another friend eventually bought the third movie, so I watched it at his house, and it blew my goddamn fuckin' mind.  The nightmare sequences were way more elaborate and fantastical, the teenagers now had dream powers, and Freddy was crackin' jokes the whole movie.  It was like a slasher movie crossed with a comic book, and at 12 years old it was one of the greatest things I had ever seen.

This book is the TITS.

Tangent time: That summer I fashioned a Freddy claw out of an old leather glove and some Tinker Toys (they didn't yet have the licensed Freddy glove), and my mom bought me an official Freddy mask to go with an old red-and-green-striped sweater my parents happened to have in the house.  I obviously went as Freddy for Halloween that year and was proud as fuck of my costume.  'Course looking back now it seems borderline inappropriate for a 12-year-old to dress up as a serial child murderer, but the 80s were a strange time.

Anyway, back to the movie.  Nightmare 3 was considered a more faithful sequel to the original (after a second installment was made against Wes Craven's stern objections, throwing out some of the rules established in the first, as well as lightening the tone and injecting a love story).  Nightmare 2 was quite successful at the box office, but critics and fans were disappointed with how far it strayed from Craven's original vision.  So for the third movie Craven was brought back in to shape the story, Nancy Thompson returned to the fold, and while still slightly comedic, the movie restored somewhat the original's darker tone.  Freddy was now dream-stalking a group of troubled, suicidal teenagers, but said teenagers had also learned to develop special skills to fight back.  Armed with a more robust budget, the filmmakers poured everything they had into the set pieces and effects, creating a crowd-pleasing horror entertainment that handily outgrossed its two predecessors.

Hey, nothing wrong with that, but watching it now there is some stuff that doesn't hold up for me.  Before we get to that though, let me heap some praise on this esteemed bit of slasher escapism...

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Sigh.....welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at  Today we look at the moment when Universal's Frankenstein franchise took a screeching 90-degree turn and went tumbling, ablaze, off a cliff into the night.  That moment when the studio ceased making top quality films about everyone's favorite flat-headed clod and transformed him into a mindless B-movie ghoul.  That's right, I'm talkin' about Ghost of Frankenstein....  (Click HERE if you missed Son of Frankenstein)

When Son of Frankenstein was another smash-hit, Universal realized there was still a ton of money in these movies and began churning them out at a rapid-fire pace, without paying attention to the annoying little details like story, characters, acting, or in this case visual style.  Ghost picks up the story shortly after the events of Son, where the villagers of Frankenstein are still angry and hysterical because the apparent death of the monster hasn't magically fixed all their woes (Kinda like with American politics).  They believe the monster might still be alive, not to mention Ygor (Good guess), and it's kept them under a curse.  The mayor eventually gives in to their badgering and greenlights their plan to destroy Frankenstein's castle (Because apparently the authority figures in this town are cool with rioting).  As they smash and burn the castle, Ygor stumbles onto the preserved monster, embedded in a block of solidified sulfur.  He breaks free and Ygor takes him to the village to find Wolf Frankenstein's brother Ludwig, also a scientist who might have the secret to restore the monster to his former glory.  Here we go again.....

So what worked and what didn't (Spoiler alert: Most of it didn't work)?  Let's take a look.....

The Awesome

Bela Lugosi

Bela's back as Ygor, and despite being directed to play the character completely differently than before, he gives another solid turn as the villainous hunchback, manipulating both the monster and the scientists to bend to his will.  No matter how cheesy and low-rent the movie, Lugosi's presence is always a welcome one.  Just ask Ed Wood.

"Hello young lady.... vant to see the inside of my van?"

Twist Ending

After a pretty tedious, meandering hour, it all comes down to Ludwig's decision to take out the monster's criminal brain (Remember that from the first movie?) and put in a healthy one.  Unfortunately though, Ygor has convinced his assistant Dr. Bohmer to substitute Ygor's brain, which will allow him to live in a strong, healthy body instead of his current mangled form.  Ludwig unwittingly puts Ygor's brain in the monster's head and revives him, and the monster begins triumphantly speaking in Ygor's voice.  But just then he discovers his eyesight is failing due to Ygor not having the same blood type as the monster.  Yeah this is all pretty goofy, but it's kind of a cool, disturbing plot twist for this series and I would've liked to see where they took this storyline.  Problem was, in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the studio hated Lugosi's performance as the monster and cut all his dialogue, removing any references to this scene, including the monster's blindness.

Monday, October 19, 2020

NJPW G1 Climax 30 Recap: Ibushi Does It Again!

The 30th G1 is now behind us, and while not the all-time classic tournament the last three editions were, the 2020 installment provided us with plenty of good wrestling, some big news, and a clear direction for next year's Tokyo Dome double-shot.

One usual G1 trope that was magnified this time around was the disparity of match quality from one block to the other.  While there's almost always a slight imbalance in that department, this year almost all of the great matchups took place in Block A, while Block B too often suffered from matches either going too long or featuring too much interference.  Evil's bouts in particular frequently became tiresome thanks to constant Dick Togo shenanigans.  Between Evil, Kenta, Yano's usual antics, and Jay White in A Block, this G1 must've seen the most outside interference of any edition to date.  I'd say it's time to curb this stuff; Evil and especially Jay White are capable of excellent matches but the constant chicanerie on the outside has made me not look forward to watching them (Jay's matches usually still deliver though).  In past tournaments Evil has provided multiple highlights.  Not so much as a Bullet Club member.  White on the other hand was able to muster some pretty great showings despite Gedo's tomfoolery.  But overall the BC stuff is wearing thin for me, and so many tainted moments throughout the tourney took away from the one big angle NJPW presented (More on that shortly).

By contrast though, another traditionally heel stable forwent the bullshit and got down to some great business in the G1.  I'm talking about Suzuki-Gun.  Minoru delivered multiple excellent matches, Zack Sabre was true to grappling spider monkey form, and perhaps the man who grew more than anyone in this tournament, Taichi actually became fun to watch.  No valets, minimal cheating; at age 40 (I had no idea he was that old) Taichi seems to have finally gotten serious about good wrestling matches.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Parents' Night In #47: The Exorcist (1973)

It's our third Halloween-themed episode of 2020 (and our 20th episode of the year), and we're back to discuss The Exorcist, a yardstick in horror cinema, directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, and Max Von Sydow!  We'll talk about the film's extraordinary production stories, its profound cultural impact, its Oscar-nominated performances, Mercedes McCambridge's legendary voiceover work, why the theatrical cut is superior to the extended cut, and why Justin doesn't think much of Lee J. Cobb's character, Lt. Kinderman.  The Exorcist is just as powerful, visceral, shocking, and endlessly fascinating now as it was upon its release, so join us for some fun and terror!


Excerpt from Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," 1973, Atlantic Records

Parody lyrics:

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Disclaimer- Some contents are used for educational purpose under fair use. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.       

Top Ten Things: Vampire Movies

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  Continuing with the Halloween festivities, today we'll count down what are in my estimation the ten greatest vampire films of all time.

Before Stephanie Meyer forever ruined the vampire genre by turning it into insipid teen melodrama involving beautiful undead emo heartthrobs (who despite not technically being alive can somehow procreate), there used to be quite a few excellent films devoted to the subject.

Being a vampire really isn't any fun when you think about it.  I explored this topic a little in my Awesomely Shitty Movies piece about The Lost Boys:

"It is possible to create complex, thought-provoking films about vampires, exploring at what cost such powers come: isolation, loneliness, unending bloodlust, tedium, having to live with murdering people, having to evade capture and prosecution for murdering people, etc."

The vampire, no matter how romantic a character you try to make him, is still at heart a repulsive, predatory creature who must kill human beings in order to survive.  Think of how awful his breath must be after drinking all that blood.  Imagine how filthy his clothes would be after sleeping in dirt every day.  Really, are the fringe benefits of being eternally young and having superhuman strength and speed worth all the other headaches? 

Anywho, here's my ten picks.

10. Near Dark (1987)

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow's second film was an unusual mashup of the vampire movie and the Western.  Starring Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein of Aliens fame, Near Dark tells the story of a gang of vampires who live in a sun-proofed van and drift from place to place, going where the food is.  One of their group, Mae, inadvertently turns a young man named Caleb into a vampire and because of her romantic attachment to him, persuades the others to accept him into their gang.  Caleb spends much of the movie struggling with his transformation and trying to appease the others so they don't kill him.  Near Dark is a very unusual and modern take on the genre, portraying the vamps as scavenging marauders not unlike the post-apocalyptic villains in the Mad Max films.  They are evil but charismatic, and Bill Paxton especially shines as the brutal second-in-command Severen.  With this film Bigelow showed her adeptness at eschewing the conventions of genre films and gave us an exciting new take on the vampire mythos.

9. Dracula (1979)

In the late 70s the well-renowned John Balderston-Hamilton Deane theater production of Dracula was revived in London and on Broadway, and its success prompted Universal Studios to remake the 1931 Bela Lugosi film for modern audiences.  The result was this stylish, romantic Frank Langella version.  Directed by John Badham and featuring an excellent score by John Williams, this update of Dracula depicts the Count as a suave, handsome seducer, to whom women willingly give their last drop.  Langella is excellent as this debonair demon, imbuing the character with both smoothness and a fearsome underlying rage.  The rest of the cast is also first-rate - the legendary Laurence Olivier plays Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, Kate Nelligan is an unusually strong and independent Lucy Seward (in this version Lucy and Mina's names are oddly swapped), and Tony Haygarth is a rather degenerate incarnation of the Renfield character.  This film is a triumph of production design and atmosphere, and a gritty, original take on the Lugosi version.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Welcome to the third Awesomely Shitty Movies piece dedicated to the Universal Studios Frankenstein series!  In case you missed part 2, check it out HERE.  Today we're talking about the third film in the franchise, Son of Frankenstein!

After the critical and commercial triumph that was Bride of Frankenstein, it seemed like another sequel would be a natural.  But Carl Laemmle Sr and Jr were soon forced out of the company due to their extravagant spending, and it seemed monster movies were off the table as well.  It was only due to an LA theater reviving Dracula and Frankenstein as a double feature, and the ensuing huge box office success, that the studio opted to jump back into that pool.  James Whale was not interested in returning however, and Rowland V. Lee was hired to direct the third film.  Son of Frankenstein was originally to be shot in color as well, but the monster's makeup didn't look quite right, so that plan was scrapped.

Son of Frankenstein was another box office success and helped pull Universal out of its financial slump.  Following this movie the studio began churning out cheesy Frankenstein sequels and crossovers, making Son the last serious entry in the series.

So what worked and what didn't?  Let's take a gander...

The Awesome


This series thus far has been full of rich, expressionist lighting, off-putting Dutch angles, and an emphasis on intense lights and darks to plunge the viewer into this bizarre world.  Son of Frankenstein continues this trend and in some ways takes it a step further, with some of the sets including angular, surrealistic staircases that cast jagged shadows on the walls behind.  Almost every set in fact has bare, textureless walls so the shadows can come across more strongly.  More on that aspect a little later.  The Film Noir genre was just beginning to blossom at this point, and many of those films must've taken some visual cues from Son of Frankenstein, among others.

Great use of lighting and angles

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Welcome to the second installment in our Awesomely Shitty Movies series pertaining to Universal Studios' Frankenstein franchise!  (Part 1 can be seen HERE)

Today it's the Frankenstein sequel that is almost universally (heh, get it?) praised as being superior to the first film, Bride of Frankenstein!

After the monumental success of the 1931 adaptation, Universal Studios understandably pushed for a follow-up, but James Whale was initially skeptical, thinking there was nothing more that could be explored in the material.  Instead Whale directed another hit horror film, The Invisible Man, and the studio pushed even harder for a Frankenstein sequel.  Whale finally agreed on the condition that Universal would produce a film of his called One More River, and when directing Bride opted to swing for the fences.  It would be a much larger-scale production with garish surrealism and subversive undertones, blending monster horror with dark comedy.  On paper this movie should never have worked as well as it did.  Whale was allowed to inject so much of his own personality into the film and its characters, and thus it became a celebration of those who live outside the norm.  With the expressionist influences of the first film turned way up for the second, and the drama ranging from horrific to funny to genuinely touching, Bride of Frankenstein is the pinnacle of the Universal monster films.

Now let's criticize it.....

The Awesome

Karloff Again

Boris reprised the role that made him a superstar, once again slipping on the giant boots and flat head.  This time the monster actually spoke, lending more depth to the character and making him even more sympathetic.  Indeed, Bride of Frankenstein is much more about the monster's character arc than Frankenstein's.  His driving motivation in this film, much like in the novel, is the search for a companion of some kind, and Karloff gives a largely quite tender, vulnerable performance that further solidifies the monster as a misunderstood brute.

Still the man

Elsa Lanchester

Despite very little actual screen time between her two roles (Seriously, it's maybe five minutes total), Elsa Lanchester brought to life one of the great movie monsters and gave a tremendously memorable turn.  Also notable is the disparity between her two characters; Mary Shelley is sweet-faced and proper, while the title character is wild-eyed and bird-like (Lanchester apparently based her head movements on those of a swan).  Her brief onscreen interaction with Karloff is bizarre and climactic; one of the great monster movie payoffs.

Makes sense her hair is standing up,
she did just get electrocuted technically

Monday, October 12, 2020

George Romero's Living Dead Trilogy: Day of the Dead (1985)

Welcome to the final part of my Living Dead Trilogy retrospective.  If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, check 'em out.....

Dawn of the Dead was such a success the distributor, United Film Distribution Company, signed Romero to a three-picture deal, provided that one of those three films would be a sequel to Dawn.  Romero, fearing that if said sequel wasn't a hit he'd lose the chance to direct the two non-zombie films, opted to save it for last.  His next two movies were Knightriders, a Renaissance faire drama which flopped due to poor distribution, and Creepshow, a horror anthology which was a modest hit but by no means a smash.  As a result, UFDC hedged their bets with the Dawn sequel, only willing to adhere to the original $7 million budget if Romero released it as an R-rated film.  Up to this point George had planned for Day of the Dead to be a massive, sweeping zombie epic, "the Gone With the Wind of zombie films," but refused to compromise the intended violence and gore for an R rating.  Thus the budget was slashed in half and Romero was forced to completely overhaul the project.  The resulting film was initially seen as an underwhelming, depressing letdown after the thrill-ride of Dawn, and made most of its money overseas and on home video.  Amazingly though, Day of the Dead has developed an enthusiastic cult following in the thirty-odd years since, in many ways becoming just as influential as its two predecessors.

Day of the Dead takes place a considerable time after Dawn, when the human race is all but wiped out, and only a few pockets of civilization remain, mostly underground.  The story centers around a small military/scientific contingent occupying an abandoned mine, hoping to find some sort of solution to the zombie infestation.  Living conditions are nearly unsustainable and the scientific team is at the mercy of a crazed Captain, who is uninterested in studying the zombies and simply wants to destroy them.  What follows is a power struggle and clash of ideas between the two factions that actually contains more thematic human drama than any other film in the series.

This guy's a whackaloon.

One of the main plot threads concerns the lead scientist, Dr. Logan (a compellingly demented Richard Liberty), who has begun experimenting on zombie specimens, hoping to "tame" them.  His most promising subject is a ghoul called "Bub," who seems to understand/remember how to work basic tools and appears almost civilized.  This subplot exploits a fascinating story element: that the zombies are no longer the bad guys.  Zombies simply act according to their instinctual nature and the only evil left in the world is that which is perpetrated by the survivors.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Frankenstein (1931)

Welcome to a special Halloween-themed Awesomely Shitty Movies, where I dissect a beloved classic and ruin everybody's fun, like an unwashed neighborhood kid pissing in the community swimming pool.

Today's subject, and the first of a series of ASM articles, is the 1931 horror milestone Frankenstein, based on the legendary 1818 novel by Mary Shelley (of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein fame).

Now look, before you get upset that I'm referring to this film as "awesomely shitty," please understand I hold Frankenstein in very high regard.  I've been a fan of this film since I was about six years old and I make it a point to watch it (and its first sequel) once a year during Halloween season.  That said, there are quite a few flaws with the film and I'm here to point them out and probably piss a lotta people off.  But whatever....

Frankenstein first emerged as a novel after its author, her husband Percy, and their friend Lord Byron were rained in one night on vacation and decided to have a little ghost story contest.  Mary had a "monster" of a time (Get it? Eh??) coming up with a story idea, but it finally came to her one night in a dream - the vision of a medical student bringing life to a man he'd stitched together from parts of the dead.  Eventually the tale grew into a full-fledged novel, and a literary classic was born.

The visual aspect of the story instantly lent itself to theatrical interpretation, and nearly a century later as the film industry blossomed it found itself the subject of several cinematic attempts (the first being Thomas Edison's 1910 short).  But it was Universal Studios and producer Carl Laemmle jr. who would make the word "Frankenstein" a household one.  Coming off the heels of a tremendously successful Dracula adaptation, Laemmle hired director James Whale and veteran actor Boris Karloff to bring the story to life.  Frankenstein was a "monster" hit (I did it again, did you catch it??), spawning three direct sequels and four crossover films, and changing monster movies forever (No no, that time it wasn't a pun).

So what worked about this immortal film and what didn't?  Well, I'm here to set the record straight....

The Awesome


In bringing Frankenstein's monster to life, makeup artist Jack Pierce and director James Whale collaborated to create one of the most instantly recognizable characters in cinema history.  The flat head, heavy brow and neck electrodes were all strokes of genius, as was Boris Karloff's added touch of mortician's wax on his eyelids to give him a half-awake zombie-like appearance.  This makeup immediately became iconic and it's still considered the definitive Frankenstein look, used extensively in Halloween decor and marketing.

Such a great look

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Parents' Night In #46: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Our Halloween-time coverage continues with one of the greatest film remakes in history, Philip Kaufman's 1978 adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum!  Where the original novel and 1956 movie version were steeped in 50s Communism paranoia, the 70s update smacked of that era's "Me Generation" self-importance, distrust of the government in the wake of Watergate, and conspiracy theories run rampant.  We'll talk about the film, its continued relevance in today's political climate, its stars, 70s decor, rotary phones, mud baths, and that terrifying "pod people" squeal!  Come and hang out with Justin & Kelly for another episode of Parents' Night In!


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Awesomely Shitty Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - Freddy's Revenge

Welcome to yet another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at, where I examine uneven films and try to separate the good from the bad.  Today I'm talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge!

Click HERE to read about Nightmare 3 and HERE for Nightmare 4...

In 1984 fledgling film studio New Line Cinemas scored an unexpected monster hit with Wes Craven's weird little movie about a burned-up guy who kills teenagers in their dreams.  The studio had literally mortgaged its future on the project, and when it turned up a tidy $22 million profit, they were eager to follow it up with something equally successful.  The only problem was, Wes Craven (who as a condition of New Line's agreeing to finance the first movie had signed it away as his intellectual property) had no interest in making Nightmare a franchise and declined to participate in a sequel.  Instead director Jack Sholder and screenwriter David Chaskin were brought in to helm the project.  Sholder later confessed he wasn't a fan of the first movie (odd choice to have him direct this one then) and wanted to take the material somewhere else, while Chaskin loaded up the sequel with unusual social subtext for an 80s popcorn movie.  One gross early miscalculation on the part of the filmmakers was the idea that they didn't need a proper actor to play Freddy - since Robert Englund demanded a raise from his Nightmare 1 salary to return, producer Robert Shaye attempted to keep the budget low by casting a stunt double in a Freddy mask.  They got as far as one scene before realizing he was terrible, and wisely agreed to Englund's terms.

Picking up five years after the events in Nightmare 1, this film centers around the new tenants of Nancy Thompson's former address, in particular a teenage boy named Jesse Walsh.  Jesse is haunted by nightmares about Freddy, who asks permission to use Jesse's body as a vehicle for murdering people in the real world.  What follows is a battle of wills, as Jesse struggles to squash the evil growing within him.  The premise is simple, but the thematic choices and execution are what's really intriguing about this often-maligned movie thirty-plus years later.

So let's detach the good and the evil surrounding A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, shall we?

The Awesome


A few cheesy and awkward moments aside, the principle performances in this movie are strong, at times some of the most credible in the series.  Mark Patton brings a tortured sense of sexually confused teen angst to the role of Jesse, unsure what to do with both his budding physical maturity and his nocturnal hauntings.  Kim Myers is sweetly nurturing and warm as the beautiful girl-next-door Lisa.  Robert Rusler is the meathead jock you can't help but like as Ron Grady, who initially bullies Jesse but ends up becoming his friend and confidant.  Veteran actor Clu Gulager is cluelessly stern as Jesse's unsympathetic father, insensitive to the changes, both Freddy-related and otherwise, his son is going through.  And of course there's trusty Robert Englund as Freddy himself, who comes off possibly more malicious here than in any other film.  Freddy just seems especially hostile this time around, almost as though Englund resented not being asked back in the first place.  Or maybe I'm reading into things...

Freddy's Look

Original Nightmare makeup artist David Miller was unavailable to return for the second film, so 23-year-old Kevin Yagher was brought in for his first of three Nightmare films.  Yagher had nothing to go on in recreating Miller's makeup design except clips from the first film and a few photos, so he mostly started from scratch, making Freddy's prosthetics thinner, bonier and more witch-like, adding to his menacing look.  Another wonderful touch was giving Englund red contact lenses to further enhance his demonic appearance.  Yagher's makeup really established the exaggerated, shiny, "classic" Freddy look.  Of the entire series, this is my favorite execution of Freddy's makeup.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

George Romero's Living Dead Trilogy: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Welcome to Part 2 of our retrospective on George Romero's Living Dead trilogy.  Check out Part 1 HERE...

With Night of the Living Dead, George Romero and his collaborators stumbled onto an unexpected cult hit, and while it sadly didn't make any of them rich (Due to an unfortunate copyright snafu the film fell into public domain where it remains to this day), they now had careers as filmmakers.  George directed four feature films after NOTLD with little box office success before returning to the genre that put him on the map.

Romero got the idea while visiting the Monroeville Mall, owned by a friend of his.  The facility had a secluded suite of rooms, fully stocked with food and water, which his friend claimed could sustain a person for months in the event of a nuclear attack.  "Hmm, what about a zombie attack?" George replied.  From this simple premise sprang the narrative seedling for his next project, which would go down as the Citizen Kane of zombie films, Dawn of the Dead.

I gotta see this place

Romero's second foray into the zombie genre picks up some time after the events of NOTLD, when the entire country is now swarming with the risen dead, private residences have been declared illegal, the emergency networks have taken over all broadcasting, and society as a whole is just about to completely break down.  Four survivors, two from a Pittsburgh TV station and two from a local SWAT force, escape in a traffic 'copter and set up shop at the Monroeville Mall.  As the outside world crumbles, our protagonists find themselves in a shopper's paradise, the entire plaza at their disposal.

As with NOTLD, Romero peppered Dawn with underlying social commentary befitting the era of its release, in this case 1970s American obsession with consumerism and the futility in trying to find happiness in material goods.  And while not as purely terrifying as its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead was a rollicking, action-horror film with moments of humor and a ton of over-the-top gore.  Where Night was filmed in expressionist black & white, Dawn depicted these grisly events in bright, garish colors, using the mall's ample lighting to save time and money during the down n' dirty shoot (The vast majority of the scenes were filmed overnight while the mall was closed, thus time and availability were limited).

Monday, October 5, 2020

Cinema Showdown: Dracula 1979 vs. Bram Stoker's Dracula 1992

It's been a long time since I published one of these, but welcome to another installment of Cinema Showdown, here at, where I compare and contrast two films of similar subject matter and pick which one I like better, and you all must agree with me....

Today I'll be discussing two of my favorite film versions of Bram Stoker's timeless novel Dracula.  It's been a long time since Hollywood gave us a serious adaptation of this story - everything since 1992 has been either satirical or a pointless reinvention of the wheel - and it's the two most recent high-quality versions I'm here to talk about.

1979 saw the release of three Dracula films - a Werner Herzog-helmed Nosferatu remake/homage (an excellent film in its own right), a modern-day spoof called Love at First Bite (starring a hilarious George Hamilton), and on the heels of a massively successful revival of the Broadway play on which it was based, a remake of Universal Studios' 1931 production of Dracula.  As they'd done in the 30s (after the sudden death of their first choice Lon Chaney), Universal cast the star of the Broadway production - in 1931 it was Bela Lugosi, in 1979 it was Frank Langella.  Reimagined as an extravagant, atmospheric horror-romance, this new version of Dracula was critically well-received but underwhelmed at the box office (no doubt hampered by the George Hamilton comedy released only a few months earlier).  It was perhaps even further removed from the novel than its 1930s counterpart, removing most of the first act and changing some characters around.  Still the Langella Dracula is a pretty excellent update of the Lugosi classic, with a more explicit emphasis on the sensuality of vampirism, and a romantic, minimalist portrayal of the immortal Count.  My wife affectionately refers to this version as Disco Dracula due to Frank's very 70s hairstyle.  This moniker is actually very fitting since John Badham had previously directed Saturday Night Fever....

Thirteen years later Francis Ford Coppola decided to take the story back to its turn-of-the-century literary roots, presenting Bram Stoker's Dracula as an honest-to-goodness faithful adaptation.  All the major characters were restored, the film followed the book's narrative structure (including diary entries in voiceover), and Dracula's extensive supernatural powers were better explored.  Sure, they crammed in a romance where the novel did not, but overall the 1992 version is one of the closest to the novel to date.  What sets this film apart from other interpretations though is its surrealist, operatic style.  The visuals were unlike anything since the 1920s Expressionist period, while many of the performances could easily be classified as "scenery chewing."  Carried largely by Gary Oldman's star making lead performance, Bram Stoker's Dracula was a strong worldwide hit, grossing over $215 million on a $40 million budget (or $473 million in today's dollars).

But which version is superior?  I enjoy both films immensely, for different reasons.  Let's take a closer look and break these films down, shall we?


Dracula: Frank Langella vs. Gary Oldman

A Dracula movie of course will largely stand or fall based on the quality of the titular performance, and both films are on very solid ground in this category.  Langella and Oldman each delivered one of the greatest and most memorable portrayals of the immortal Count, in very different ways.

Langella's turn is understated, relying on smoldering sex appeal and a soft-spoken menace.  He also skipped the Romanian accent (an odd choice given Drac's nationality, but somehow it works) and refused any sort of vampiric makeup or fangs, telling the filmmakers, "There are fifty other movies where Dracula looks like that, we're doing something different."  Instead of a typically monstrous vampire, Langella embodies the Count as a stoic, romantic lead who exhibits no wasted motion, luring his victims to their demise with an almost feline charm.  And of course those hypnotic, ever-dancing eyes....

Gary Oldman's performance couldn't be more different from its 1979 counterpart.  Oldman, like everything else in the Coppola film, is operatic in his portrayal.  This Count is bombastic, charismatic, fully "old world," and depending on the scene either violently carnal or grotesquely terrifying.  He shapeshifts no fewer than half a dozen times throughout the film (as in the novel where he appears as an old man, a less old man, a bat, a wolf, an army of rats, and mist), and Oldman's fearsome theatrics shine through the layers of prosthetic makeup.  This is the film that made me fall in love with Gary Oldman's acting.

But who's better?  It's really up to your personal tastes and what you expect out of the character.  Langella goes for romance and a minimalistic sense of evil.  Oldman swings for the fences to make the Count an otherworldly demon.  Personally I like my Dracula to be a true, unearthly monster, and I think Oldman's larger-than-life version is much closer to what Bram Stoker probably envisioned.  Plus it's still one of my all-time favorite film performances.

Point: 1992

Thursday, October 1, 2020

NXT TakeOver 31 Preview & Predictions

NXT TakeOver 31 (Are they really just numbering them now? Lame.) is this Sunday, and it actually looks like a really strong lineup.

WWE's only good brand is back and they've got a slate of five hot matches for us to peruse.  It's shows like this that make me consider resubscribing to the Network, at least temporarily.  Hmmmmmm....

Anyway let's take a look.

NXT Cruiserweight Championship: Santos Escobar vs. Isaiah "Swerve" Scott

Ok, I know zilch about either of these guys and I haven't watched NXT since they annexed the Cruiserweight Title (though I agree with it; that belt got zero respect on the main roster).  But it's two cruiserweights on NXT, so it oughta be good.  Since I'm flying blind on this one I'll just go with the champ to retain.

Pick: Escobar retains

Kushida vs. Velveteen Dream

On paper this is a helluva match.  I'm glad Kush is finally getting something to do in this company; he's been there a year and a half and this is his first TakeOver.  That's mental.  Kushida is an amazing talent who, I grant you, Vince wouldn't take a second look at on the main roster, but he should've been utilized right away on NXT.  Anyway I'm hoping this is the beginning of a push for him and not just a one-off.

Pick: Kushida

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Parents' Night In #45: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It's Halloween season, and that means it's time for Justin & Kelly to watch one of the greatest thrillers of all time, The Silence of the Lambs!  We'll discuss the iconic performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, as well as the film's unsung hero Ted Levine as the terrifying Buffalo Bill.  We'll also get into the other films in the series, Red Dragon (great adaptation) and Hannibal (over-the-top freak show), the unconventional choice of Jonathan Demme as Lambs' director, the film's off-putting visual style and music, and more!  Crack open a beverage and hang out for a scary movie episode of Parents' Night In!

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Snippet of the film's score composed by Howard Shore.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

George Romero's Living Dead Trilogy: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Since it's Halloween season and this film is 50 years old now, I thought I'd go back and rewatch the legendary Living Dead trilogy, wherein the humble, gentlemanly indie filmmaker George Romero created one of the most disturbing film series of all time.  An aspiring, self-taught director with a background in commercial work, Romero and his associates decided in 1967 to make a feature film, choosing the horror genre for its marketability on a small budget, and a whole new subgenre was born. 

The result of course was Night of the Living Dead, a bloodcurdling guerrilla-style picture about seven survivors holed up in an old farmhouse during a zombie outbreak.  At a time when audiences were conditioned to expect cheeseball horror and sci-fi movies that were playfully scary but ultimately toothless, Night of the Living Dead was truly a shock to the system.  Here was a stark, brutal nightmare of a film depicting in gory detail people and zombies being shot, bludgeoned, stabbed, and eating human entrails, where none of the heroes make it out alive.  The overall tone is so bleak and upsetting I can't imagine how 1968 audiences took it.  NOTLD became a major hit on the midnight movie circuit, eventually grossing over $30 million worldwide on a $114,000 budget.

Romero also unintentionally pulled off a coup by casting an African-American as the film's lead.  Duane Jones, an experienced theater actor, gave the best audition for a role originally written as a white character, thus lending the narrative a poignant layer of political subtext.  The film's tragic finale, where Ben is mistaken for a zombie and shot, before being dragged out of the house and burned by the redneck law enforcement posse, now paralleled the racial tensions and unrest of the Civil Rights era.  The choice to depict the aftermath in grainy still photos echoes violent newspaper clippings of the time, making it that much more upsetting.

Romero's use of light and shadow is superb

Other cast standouts include 23-year-old Judith O'Dea as the hysterically frightened Barbra and producers (and real-life married couple) Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman as the antagonistic Harry Cooper and his anxious wife Helen.  Given the non-professional status of most of the actors, the performances are by and large quite effective.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Top Ten Things: David Fincher Films

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

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

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

10. Alien 3

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

9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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

8. Panic Room

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

Thursday, September 24, 2020

WWE Clash of Champions 2020 Preview & Predictions

Ugh, there's another WWE PPV this weekend?  I didn't even do picks for the last one because I didn't even realize it existed.  Who in the fuck schedules a PPV a week after SummerSlam?  What is this, 1991?  Instead of Payback they should've called it This Sunday In Suckville.

Anyway, Clash of Champions is this Sunday and we have another pretty half-assed lineup from the 'E.  A few big picture notes first though.  Roman Reigns is back, he's the Universal Champion (way to bury The Fiend again by having his second reign last one week), and the good part, he's a heel aligned with Paul Heyman.  That there is alright by me.  Of course it's four years too late; they should've turned him in 2016 when Seth Rollins came back from his knee injury.  But at least they finally came to their senses about Roman.  As a heel his character is actually compelling. 

In other news Retribution, despite repeatedly attacking WWE employees over several months, are now WWE employees.  Sure, that makes a lotta sense.  Also the male members are named Mace (that's alright), T-Bar (uhhh), and Slapjack.  S-slap...jack?  Isn't that a children's card game?  When a jack is turned over you have to be the first to slap it?  That's what I think of when I hear that word.  Jesus H. Christ this creative team is devoid of ideas.

But back to the PPV lineup, once again not much of interest on this show.  I guess it's made my decision to cut the WWE cord that much easier, I have not once regretted missing a main roster PPV since.  And considering how messy NXT's booking has been during the Wednesday Night War I honestly haven't been that upset about missing TakeOvers.  Let's pick some winners....

Pre-Show RAW Women's Championship: Asuka vs. Zelina Vega

1. Why is Asuka on the pre-show?  2. Why is Vega getting a title shot?  3. Why is Vega even being used as a wrestler?  She's a great manager/valet.  She's not so good in the ring.  This is pointless.  Squash City.

Pick: Asuka retains

US Championship: Bobby Lashley vs. Apollo Crews

Jeezus, Crews has been feuding with The Hurt Business since roughly 1927.  How many iterations of this feud are we being subjected to?  I'm inclined to stick with Lashley retaining but they could have Crews finally win back his title to end the feud. 

Pick: I'll go with Lashley retaining

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

RIP Road Warrior Animal (1960-2020)

Well, 2020 has punched us in the gut yet again.  Joe Laurinitis, better known as Road Warrior Animal, has passed away at age 60, joining his long-departed comrade Mike Hegstrand (Hawk).  No word yet on the cause of death, but it's unfathomably cruel, this wrestling business that has taken so many so young.  

I first became aware of The Road Warriors in 1985, when one of my friends procured a Best of the AWA tape which spotlighted AWA Championship matches (the centerpiece was Rick Martel winning the title from Jumbo Tsuruta).  After the main content was over, the tape featured trailers for other tapes in the collection, one of which spotlighted The Road Warriors.  Already a huge fan of the 1981 film The Road Warrior, I immediately took notice, marveling at these two larger than life, facepainted monsters obliterating everything in their path.  Animal in particular stuck out to me thanks to his mohawk, which recalled the charismatic villain Wez from the film (shoutout to Vernon Wells).  Every time I visited my friend's house I'd insist on rewatching that tape, and the clips of Animal and Hawk were the highlight for me. 

That VHS cassette and the Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan's Rock n' Wrestling were my dual gateways to becoming a fan of this bizarre form of entertainment where musclebound guys (and gals) pretend to beat the shit out of each other.  A year later I began watching the WWF religiously, but not long after that I discovered the NWA, whose roster to my surprise and delight now included Hawk and Animal.  It didn't take long for the duo to become my favorite tag team, their presence and mystique so compelling as to defy the concept of "workrate." 

Not that Animal and Hawk couldn't work a match; quite the contrary, their athleticism between the ropes stood in stark contrast to their enormous stature.  Here were two of the most powerful men in the sport, each able to military press an opponent over their heads, who could also hit dropkicks and flying clotheslines and shoulderblocks.  On top of that, The Road Warriors (along with rivals like The Midnight Express) took tandem wrestling moves to a new level, inventing several devastating-looking combinations, the most famous of which of course is the Doomsday Device, for me the greatest tandem move in wrestling history.  Animal would lift an opponent onto his massive shoulders and Hawk would level him with a flying clothesline off the top rope.  The first time I saw this move I just about soiled my trousers.  It became the yardstick for tag team finishers and it's been copied and tweaked numerous times by others. 

Top Ten Things: Directors' Second Films

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

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

Honorable Mentions

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010)

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

The Green Mile (Frank Darabont, 1999)

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001)

Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995)

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


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

9. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)

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

8. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

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

Monday, September 21, 2020

Top Ten Things: Directorial Film Debuts

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

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

Anchorman (Adam McKay, 2004)

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

Blood Simple (The Coen Brothers, 1984)

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

10. Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)

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

9. Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)

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

8. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)

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