Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal, here at, where I review an old Best Picture nominee in preparation for this year's delayed ceremony!

Today's entry is another Tennessee Williams adaptation, the classic 1958 family drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives.  Directed by Richard Brooks from a screenplay by Brooks and James Poe, the film version of COAHTR was met with disappointment from its stage creator, after revisions made necessary by the oppressive Hays Code whitewashed some of Williams' themes.  In the play version the Paul Newman character Brick had a close friendship with a male friend named Skipper that veered into a romantic attachment, and Skipper committed suicide after Brick rebuffed his sexual advances.  In the film this was reduced to a vague, euphemistic exchange where Skipper was simply depressed and reached out to Brick for help, but Brick turned his back on him.  

Regardless of ill-conceived 1950s forms of censorship though, COAHTR is an emotionally intense, superbly acted drama depicting a family implosion.  The setting is a large southern plantation house owned by Harvey "Big Daddy" Pollitt (a gruff, foul-mouthed, self-important Burl Ives in a major departure from Sam the Snowman, the only role I'd previously seen of his).  Big Daddy is home from the hospital after being tested for cancer, apparently having been given a clean bill of health (later revealed to be a lie).  But during his absence his son Gooper and daughter-in-law Mae have been planning to cut out of the eventual inheritance his other son Brick, a former football star turned drunk, whose estranged wife Maggie sees through Gooper and Mae's machinations.  Throughout the film we learn of the strained relationships between all the characters.  Brick believes Maggie cheated on him with his best friend Skipper, but has agreed to stay in a loveless marriage with her out of convenience.  Maggie is more attracted to Brick than ever but he refuses to show her any affection.  Gooper and Mae resent Brick for being Big Daddy's favorite son.  Big Daddy hasn't been in love with his wife Ida in decades.  All of this comes boiling to the surface over the course of an evening, with potent results.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 2

For the first and only time, WrestleMania emanates from multiple venues....

Nassau Coliseum/Rosemont Horizon/L.A. Sports Arena - 4/7/86

'Mania 2 was possibly the strangest of them all.  It took place from three different locations on a Monday(!) night.  The multi-venue format was clearly in response to Jim Crockett's Starrcade '85 being broadcast from two venues a few months earlier.  Three is bigger than two I guess, so Vince opted for a live one-hour card from three different time zones.  Unfortunately this made for a rather uneven show, and worse, the commentary suffered as the A-crew was split up and paired with B-level commentators and/or celebrities who knew nothing about the product.

Each hour of the show featured a main event match, preceded by three undercard matches (some of which were oddly truncated to the point that their inclusion at all is rather baffling).

The Nassau portion of the show was easily the weakest, headlined by a worked boxing match between Piper and Mr. T.  There is little in the sports-entertainment business that is less exciting to me than pretend boxing.  It simply doesn't work, especially when neither participant is particularly good at it.  Neither of them looked like legitimate fighters and the match was little more than a barrage of pulled punches.  An actual wrestling match could have been much more entertaining.

Wow, this stunk...

The first third of the show was notable for the WrestleMania debuts of Randy Savage and Jake Roberts, neither of whom really got to show what they were capable of.  The opening match on this show was probably the most disappointing, as on paper Don Muraco vs. Paul Orndorff looks pretty good.  Sadly they were only given about 4 minutes and they went to a rushed double countout.  Savage's match was by default the best of the Nassau portion, but it was little more than a comedic spectacle as his opponent George "The Animal" Steele was so uncontrollable.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The History of WWE WrestleMania: I

Hello and welcome to this special blog, The History of WrestleMania!  This series will discuss and dissect all 36 previous installments of the annual supercard and determine what I feel were the highlights and lowlights each year.

WrestleMania season is usually one of my favorite times of the year, and I always find myself reflecting back on the storied history of this great spectacle.  I think about some of my favorite 'Mania matches, what makes a great 'Mania card, and why some shows were so successful while others really don't deserve to fall under the WrestleMania banner.  For the record, I'm writing this piece completely from memory, which should give you some idea of how sad and twisted I am.

So without further prattling on, let's get to it.

Madison Square Garden - 3/31/85

This of course was the show that started it all.  The great McMahon gamble that paid off not in spades, but truckloads of money.  This was one of the first truly mainstream wrestling events on a national scale, and the hype allowed the WWF to break into the pop culture vernacular.

Surprisingly though, the inaugural 'Mania card more resembled a house show than a true supercard.  For one thing, having a tag team match as the main event rather than a WWF Title match seems like such an odd choice.  Hulk Hogan's ongoing feud with Roddy Piper was such a draw it seems like a singles match for the belt would be the natural main event.  However the WWF put that match on MTV that February as a way to hype 'Mania.  Clearly it worked, but it made for kind of a watered-down main event for the supercard.  Hogan/Mr. T vs. Piper/Orndorff was fine for what it was, but I hardly consider it a classic.

I always dug this poster for some reason.
These two guys together would beat Rocky Balboa's ass!

This match also began the trend of celebrities getting involved in big money matches as actual competitors.  It occurs to me that the match would've been greatly improved by swapping T out for Jimmy Snuka.  But I suppose seeing T wrestle was part of the draw.  Mr. T certainly looked like he could hang in the ring with the actual wrestlers but I've always felt that having celebs wrestle damages the business somewhat.  More on that later....

The show was also not very stacked for such a marquee event.  To be fair, the WWF's roster would expand considerably after this show (Savage and Jake would arrive, the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs would form).  Elsewhere on the card we had Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd in a bodyslam challenge (again, this felt watered-down since it wasn't a traditional wrestling match but ended when one man bodyslammed the other) which aside from the spectacle was just two nearly immobile guys plodding through a short match.

The first 'Mania also inexplicably featured several glorified squashes.  Tito Santana vs. The Executioner opened the show and was roughly the kind of match you'd see on Wrestling Challenge.  King Kong Bundy vs. S.D. Jones and Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne also fell into that category.  Hardly worthy of the biggest show of all-time (at that point anyway).

First match in WrestleMania history

Oscar Film Journal: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at

Today's installment is the first color film I've reviewed for this series, the 1938 swashbuckler starring Errol Flynn in his most famous role, The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Produced by Warner Brothers for an at-the-time staggering $2 million as their first big Technicolor film, Robin Hood is the most influential of all the legend's adaptations.  From Looney Tunes to Disney to Mel Brooks, this film and its visual aesthetic has been imitated and parodied countless times over the decades, and it stands as a delightful, stirring romp of an adventure film.

Flynn was actually the studio's second choice to play the character for which he'd become a household name; the part was originally slated for James Cagney (almost impossible to imagine now), but Cagney inexplicably walked off the project.  Starring alongside Flynn were Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, who slowly devlops feelings for Robin Hood despite him being "the enemy," Basil Rathbone as the overbearing Guy of Gisbourne, and Claude Rains as the cowardly Prince John.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1994)

The final SuperBrawl before the Bischoff Era.  Was it any good?  Let's find out...

SuperBrawl IV - Albany Civic Center - 2.20.94

I went into this show expecting to like it pretty well.  But I didn't really.  WCW's booking under Flair felt very disorganized, like they were trying to adhere to the tropes that had worked for them in the past, but weren't fully committed to the idea.  So it became an awkward hybrid of 1991 WCW and 1991 WWF almost.  And neither company at that time was producing very good results.  Sadly this was the beginning of the end for WCW as we knew it; the roster would very soon resemble the late 80s WWF and the company would hit its creative nadir.

The show began with the introductions for the scheduled opener, Johnny B. Badd vs. Michael Hayes, only for Hayes to roll out in a wheelchair and claim he was too injured to compete.  Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel then announced that Jimmy Garvin would take Hayes' place, but not until later.  So they used up ten minutes on this foolishness.

The actual opener was Harlem Heat vs. Thunder & Lightning, in a pretty well-worked tag bout.  Both teams looked good here and it made me wonder what became of Thunder & Lightning after this (Just looked this up - Lightning was Jeff Farmer, or the future nWo Sting, while Thunder went on to own NWA Ohio).  The ending was a little weak, as Stevie Ray took advantage of a distracted referee to kick one of the babyfaces in the ear, which was somehow enough for the win.  But not a bad way to kick things off.

Next up was a laughably bad match between The Equalizer (later repackaged as Kevin Sullivan's simpleton brother Dave), and, get this, "Jungle" Jim Steele.  Jungle Jim.  Get it?  Jim was more or less a discount store Ultimate Warrior ripoff, with vaguely similar ring gear, a comparable build, and a few of the same mannerisms.  But yeah, this was terrible.  Tony Schiavone actually went on about the great opening matches we'd seen at previous SuperBrawls, as if to say, "...and now we get crap like this."

Jeezus, did Page EAT his future self?
Clearly DDP Yoga wasn't around yet.

Two rather dull matches followed, the first of which pitted a pretty portly Diamond Dallas Page against Terry Taylor.  This started out fairly strong, as Taylor was always a good worker and DDP seemed determined to prove he was more than just a gimmick.  But the bout dragged on several minutes longer than it probably should have.  Taylor won with a quick rollup after nearly 12 minutes.  Heenan's commentary kept this entertaining....

...And saved this next match, Johnny B. Badd vs. Jimmy Garvin.  Badd looked, well, good here, using some solid grappling moves.  Garvin had returned after a two-year layoff and looked like someone's dad in wrestling tights.  This match was a glorified squash that lasted 10:48.  Garvin hardly showed any offense until after the match when he attacked Badd and hit him with the 9-1-1, or as it would later be known, the Stone Cold Stunner.  Not much to this one.

The TV Title was on the line next, as Lord Steven Regal defended against the returning Arn Anderson (who'd missed a few months after the hotel stabbing incident with Sid Vicious) in a special 30-minute time limit match.  Yeah, that time extension was a mistake; this match was incredibly dull for nearly the entire duration.  Neither guy seemed to know what to do to fill thirty minutes (29:54 to be exact), nor was there any urgency to anything they did do.  Aside from a few near-falls toward the end it didn't feel like Anderson was really trying to win the match; at one point with less than a minute to go he broke out a side headlock before remembering this was supposed to be the climax.  What a disappointment.  How much better would a fast-paced fifteen-minute bout have been here?

Ladies and gentlemen, the first fifteen minutes....

The surprise hit of the night was a chaotic Tag Team Title match pitting The Nasty Boys against Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne.  Payne broke out several suplexes early on (and one botched belly-to-belly at the end that nearly crippled Brian Knobbs), and Cactus did his usual cringe-worthy spots, like taking a back bump off the apron to the unprotected concrete.  This certainly wasn't pretty but it also wasn't boring.  The finish stunk though - Saggs broke a guitar over Payne's head to draw a DQ.  But shockingly this was the best match on the show so far.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

NJPW Castle Attack Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of NJPW predictions, here at!

This weekend is the Castle Attack two-night event at Osaka-jo Hall, and there are some big matchups taking place.  Sadly Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title is not one of them, thanks to a torn pec that will keep Hiromu out of action for six months or so.  That really sucks.  Without Hiromu as its anchor, that division is really sparse right now.  Hopefully someone can step up.  Anyway let's look at the ten big matches over the two nights....

Night 1

United Empire vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & TenCozy

This should be a fun six-man.  I'm not sure why Ospreay is relegated to two opening tag bouts here but whatever, it's a way for his team to get a couple wins I guess.  Ospreay, Cobb and O-Khan need to win to continue their momentum and also to make O-Khan look good for his Night 2 title match with Tanahashi.

Pick: United Empire

Yoshi-Hashi vs. Tanga Loa

The first night features two singles matches between Night 2's IWGP Tag Team Championship participants.  Yoshi and Goto will challenge Guerrillas of Destiny for the straps, but first they'll face off in singles bouts.  I don't expect this one to be great or anything, as its the lesser partners of each team.  I'll pick Yoshi to pull out an upset here.

Pick: Yoshi-Hashi

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Gaslight (1944)

Welcome to another installment in the Oscar Film Journal, here at!

Today's film is steeped in psychological torment and paranoia, and its title has become, especially in recent years, part of our lexicon.  In fact its core subject matter is perhaps as relevant as ever, in this age of post-truth and disinformation.  I'm talking about the 1944 thriller Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.

Based on a 1938 play and a 1940 British film (In its arrogance MGM tried to have all copies of that version destroyed prior to this film's release - rather ironic considering the topic), Gaslight concerns a woman whose husband systematically breaks her down mentally and emotionally, to the point that she believes she's going insane.  Its depiction of a psychologically abusive relationship was so potent that it gave birth to the term "gaslighting," meaning to lie to and abuse one's partner so thoroughly they doubt their own reality and accept the one you've created for them.  

The film begins with the aftermath of a murder; a famous opera singer has been killed in her London home and her 14-year-old niece Paula is sent to Italy.  There as a voice student she meets a charming pianist and the two have a whirlwind romance culminating in their hasty wedding.  Her new husband Gregory talks her into moving back to London, into the house Paula's aunt bequeathed to her.  From there it's obvious there's more to Gregory than meets the eye, as he reacts violently to one of the aunt's fan letters (specifically the name of its author) and accuses Paula when small objects begin to go missing around the house.  He hires a new maid (18-year-old Angela Lansbury in a pretty great supporting turn) who clearly seems to be in his pocket, passively aggressively antagonizing the lady of the house at every turn, and begins isolating his wife from the outside world under the pretense of her "not being well."  Every night Gregory goes out to "work" while Paula is locked in her bedroom, and she sees the gaslight dim as if someone elsewhere in the house turned on another, and hears noises from a supposedly boarded room upstairs.  All the while a Scotland Yard detective (an always engaging Joseph Cotten) recognizes Paula as a relative of the deceased aunt and decides to reopen the unsolved murder case.

Oscar Film Journal: Mildred Pierce (1945)

It's time for another entry in the Oscar Film Journal!

I'm back with another Joan Crawford vehicle, this one a film noir classic called Mildred Pierce.  Based on the 1941 novel but revamped as something of a murder mystery, the film kicks right off with the shooting death of Monte Beragon, a formerly wealthy California playboy, and the title character's second husband.  Immediately Mildred appears to be the prime suspect, as she lures a former friend and business associate back to the scene of the crime and locks him in the house for the police to find.  Numerous suspects are brought back to the station for questioning, including Mildred's first husband Bert, whom she insists is innocent.  We then begin a long series of flashbacks as Mildred explains her backstory.  

Mildred and Bert are on the outs and financially strapped after Bert quits his real estate job.  The couple separate and Mildred takes a waitressing gig to support her two daughters (The elder, Veda, is obsessed with status and ashamed that her mother waits tables for a living).  Mildred immerses herself in the restaurant business and decides to open her own establishment, consulting with Bert's old business partner Wally Fay to help her negotiate with the site's property owner Monte Beragon.  The new restaurant takes off and becomes a chain, meanwhile Mildred and Monte begin a romance and later marry (out of convenience rather than love).  Veda secretly marries a rich boy and extorts him for money, showing a pattern of malignant materialism that drives a wedge between her and Mildred.  Ultimately after supporting both Monte and Veda for years, Mildred is financially ruined and has to sell her business, a deal co-brokered by Monte and Wally (hence her attempt to frame Wally for Monte's murder).  I won't spoil the ending here but suffice it to say that Mildred is one of numerous characters with a clear motive to murder.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Welcome to the fourth entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at  For those just joining us I'm watching as many Best Picture nominees from the last 92 years as I can before this year's Oscars, and telling you all what I think of them.

Today's film is Mrs. Miniver, a wartime drama released in 1942, as World War II was raging on.  Considered a textbook Hollywood film but set in Britain and rife with overtones of British mettle and pride, Mrs. Miniver was and is regarded as an exceedingly well-made propaganda film that helped American audiences identify with our overseas allies at the height of the war.  The action centers around an upper-middle class suburban family at the outset of German aggression in Europe, depicting in pretty unforgiving detail for the time how the lives of everyday Brits were affected by these events.  

The title character Kay Miniver, played by Greer Garson (for which she won a well-deserved Oscar), is an affable, rather carefree housewife, happily married to a successful architect.  The couple have two young children and one in college, and the family's home life is thrown into turmoil as the Germans begin air raiding England and France.  The eldest son Vin gets romantically involved with Carol, the granddaughter of a neighboring rich widow, and also decides to join the Royal Air Force to help in the war effort.  This creates much concern within the family, but even moreso with Carol's grandmother, who lost her husband to battle and doesn't want to see her granddaughter suffer the same fate.  But ultimately the young couple marries, knowing that there's a good chance they won't have a lot of time together.  Another subplot involves Carol's grandmother and her entry in the annual flower show, where she's won first prize several years in a row but this year has competition from the train station manager Mr. James Ballard (Hey, that's my dad's name!), played by Henry Travers of It's a Wonderful Life fame.  

Oscar Film Journal: Grand Hotel (1932)

Welcome back to my Oscar Film Journal, here at, where I'm trying to take in as many of history's Best Picture nominees as I can before the 2021 ceremony.

Today I'll be talking about the 1932 drama Grand Hotel, based on a 1930 play, itself based on a 1929 novel.  Grand Hotel is an all-star ensemble piece (generally considered the first of its kind) involving the machinations of various characters, either to find happiness, financial success, or romance.  The entire movie takes place within the titular hotel, and the film is notable for both its lavish interior sets and for its camera movement, taking the viewer all around the lobby and allowing us to view things from multiple angles.  This innovation proved quite influential, as prior to this film Hollywood's cinematography tended to be more about simply capturing action in two dimensions.  

The film opens with a montage of various hotel employees and guests making phone calls, helping lay the foundation for the intertwining storylines to play out over the next two days.  John Barrymore plays Baron Felix von Geigem, a gambler and thief hoping to win back his squandered fortune and achieve financial independence from the gangsters with whom he's fallen in.  Lionel Barrymore (sharing the screen with his brother for the first time) plays Otto Kringelein, a terminally ill accountant who has vowed to spend his remaining days in the luxurious Grand Hotel, going so far as to cancel a recently drafted will to free up the funds for his stay.  Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a fading Russian ballerina who's fallen into a deep depression.  Wallace Beery is General Director Preysing, an aggressive industrialist in town for an urgent business deal.  Joan Crawford is Flaemmchen, a stenographer hired by Preysing, who has designs on an acting career and is willing to do just about anything to get there.

Top Ten Things: Wrestling PPVs of the 2000s

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!  Ten things, in order, numbered.  You get the idea.

Today I'll be talking about the ten greatest PPVs of that bygone decade known as the "aughts."  2000-2009.  Wrestling was HUGE at the start of the decade, and by the end...not quite so much.  But the 2000s saw some major changes in the industry, as the WWF swallowed up both of its major competitors (only to see a pair of smaller ones pop up in their place).  The company also took on a more modern edge at the turn of the century, blending their storyline-driven content with a much stronger in-ring emphasis, aided by numerous talent acquisitions like Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and The Radicalz.  The WWF's PPV quality boomed during the first two years of the decade but fell again starting in 2002.  Unfortunately with no real competition Vince McMahon was less motivated to put out a consistently strong product, thus most of the entries on this list are from the first half of the decade.  So let's get to the list.....

10. No Way Out 2006

Our first entry is from one of WWE's worst recent in-ring years; a rare 2006 PPV that was solidly engaging from top to bottom.  The Smackdown brand's No Way Out was headlined by a fairly epic Kurt Angle-Undertaker bout for the World Title that ranged all over the ringside area and climaxed with Taker snaring Angle in a triangle choke, which Angle countered with a match-ending rollup.  The semi-main event pitted Rumble winner Rey Mysterio against Randy Orton, with the latter gaining a cheap pinfall to steal Rey's WrestleMania title shot.  The third-best match saw US Champion Booker T defend against Chris Benoit, in one of their better WWE outings.  Benoit would capture the US Title with the Crossface.  The three undercard bouts were middling, but the lion's share of this show was alotted to the three big matchups and the result was a streamlined PPV that easily outclassed everything else on WWE's 2006 calendar.

9. Backlash 2000

2000 was a year when the WWF's B PPVs were by and large far superior to the Big Five shows.  Case in point, Backlash.  Making excellent use of the influx of new roster additions, the company presented a loaded show with a spectacular variety of bouts.  From the Edge/Christian-X-Pac/Road Dogg Tag Title opener to the dizzyingly paced Dean Malenko-Scotty 2 Hotty Light Heavyweight match, to the unruly Hardcore Title 6-Way, to the hilariously entertaining Eddie Guerrero-Essa Rios European Title match, the undercard provided plenty to enjoy.  But the final two bouts solidified Backlash as a truly great show.  Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho delivered one of their best singles matches together for the Intercontinental Title, one that could've main evented a PPV had it gone another five minutes.  Then Triple H and The Rock continued their epic feud with an excellent sports-entertainment showing.  While not a technical masterpiece like the I-C match, HHH-Rock served as a fine WWF-style main event to further this rivalry and cap off a pretty incredible night of wrestling.

8. WrestleMania XX

One of the most star-studded WrestleManias was the twentieth edition, emanating from Madison Square Garden.  Of the twelve featured matches, only four really captured the imagination, but as with 'Mania X, the good stuff on this show was so strong it far outweighed the rest.  Two undercard matches - Chris Jericho vs Christian and Evolution vs. The Rock n' Sock Connection - were tremendously entertaining in very different ways, but the real strengths of WrestleMania XX lay in its co-main events.  First was the WWE Title match between Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle, a blistering 21-minute affair that ended with Guerrero loosening his boot, causing it to slip off his foot and allowing him to escape an ankle lock before rolling Angle into a small package for the pin.  The main event of this show stands as probably my favorite WWE match of all time: World Champion Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit.  A near-perfect mix of drama, brutality, blood, and airtight wrestling.  These three delivered a simply breathtaking main event culminating in Benoit tapping out the dominant heel Champion before celebrating with his best friend Eddie Guerrero.  WrestleMania XX did have some throwaway matches (two 4-way Tag Title bouts, a brief Undertaker-Kane match, and an abysmal Goldberg-Brock Lesnar fiasco) but the good matches were so good (I consider the two Title matches the two best bouts of 2004) I have to include this show in the list.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Welcome to another installment of my Oscar Films Journal, here at!

Today we jump into the early 1950s for a film whose source material I studied in high school.  And like so many literary works you study in high school, I never fully appreciated or cared about Tennessee Williams' magnum opus, A Streetcar Named Desire.  When you're 16 years old the last thing you wanna read is a play manuscript with a bunch of people sitting around and talking.  Oh, if only I could go back and have a conversation with teenage Justin; there are so many things about which I'd set him straight.  Also, dammit brain, stop singing tunes from that Simpsons episode where Marge plays Blanche in a musical version of Streetcar.....

Anyway, I finally sat down and watched the legendary 1951 film adaptation, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, and man is that a fuckin' movie.  The story is by now the stuff of theater legend; faded southern belle visits her sister in New Orleans, clashes with the sister's abusive husband, ends up going insane.  It's a very simple narrative, but written so sharply by Williams and adapted for the screen with such dramatic intensity and visual acuity that it becomes something resembling an oppressive film noir.

The original stage production starred three of the four principles in this adaptation as a matter of fact, with only Jessica Tandy being replaced as Blanche Dubois with British actress Vivien Leigh (who starred in the West End production after being catapulted to fame for Gone With the Wind).  Leigh gives a multi-layered performance, her delicate, subtly condescending southern flower act driving her interactions with the other characters for most of the film, until her past transgressions come to light.  Once her love interest Mitch (a socially awkward, vulnerable Karl Malden) confronts her about the rumors, Blanche's entire demeanor transforms into that of a damaged, resentful woman who explains defiantly what she's been through.  This scene is the apex of Leigh's performance.  

WWE Elimination Chamber 2021: The Miz? Really? REALLY??

Well, that was a show.  A kinda pointless show overall, but a show that kept me entertained and didn't go on forever.  I guess in 2021 that's all we can ask of a WWE PPV?  

The show opened with the Smackdown Elimination Chamber for a shot at Roman Reigns later in the evening.  I liked this Chamber a lot, and it helped that Daniel Bryan ran the table and Cesaro lasted most of the match.  Bryan and Cesaro carried the early phase of the bout and I'll never complain about watching those two.  Baron Corbin was in next and dominated both babyfaces in monster heel fashion.  Again, Corbin being dominant at this point is pretty amusing, but the action was good.  In fourth was a reluctant Sami Zayn, who attempted to hold his pod shut as the referee was opening it, forgetting that each pod now has two doors.  Cesaro came up behind Zayn and attacked, and Zayn sold it like a mugging.  They ended up on top of one of the pods and then halfway in between pods, and Cesaro hit Zayn with a series of uppercuts until Zayn collapsed to the floor of the Chamber.  The first elimination of the match, fittingly, was Corbin, after Cesaro used the giant swing followed by a sharpshooter for the tapout.  Owens came in next and Zayn tried to forge an alliance with him like old times, but Owens wasn't having it.  Owens beat up Sami and then ran wild on everyone else.  Jey Uso was the final entrant and the match turned into a melee, with Owens at one point landing a moonsault off one of the pods onto the group.  Owens stunned Zayn to eliminate him, but as Zayn was leaving, Jey slammed the big door on Owens' arm and superkicked him into oblivion, followed by a top rope splash to pin him.  Bryan and Cesaro had a pretty great sequence that culminated in Cesaro swinging Bryan around by his injured leg only for Uso to hit Cesaro with a superkick and top rope splash to eliminate him.  It was down to Bryan and Uso.  Uso hit a splash on Bryan but Bryan kicked out, so Uso went to the top of a pod for another splash, but Bryan got his knees up and followed up with the running knee to win the whole Chamber.  He is now tied with John Cena at three Chamber wins, trailing Triple H at four.  This was a fine Chamber match.  It was centered around the best workers, the weakest guy in the match got pinned first, and the best guy in the match won it.  ****  

Bryan's celebration was short-lived, as Roman Reigns came out immediately for their Universal Title match.  Reigns went for a spear on a barely-standing Bryan, who countered into a Yes Lock that nearly ended the match.  Roman powered out though and spent the next 90 seconds ground pounding Bryan and powerbombing him.  Reigns locked in a guillotine choke and Bryan passed out.  Well that was pointless.  Edge ran in and speared Roman after the match, pointing to the WrestleMania sign to make their match official.  Yawn.  Edge is to 2021 what Batista was to 2014 - the guy Vince threw into the WrestleMania main event after he couldn't get The Rock.  Problem is neither Edge nor Batista is anywhere near the draw The Rock is.  NR

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Cimarron (1931)

What's goin' on everyone?  This is the start of something a little different here at, I'm calling it my Oscar Film Journal.  I decided that, even though I'm a dyed-in-the-wool film nerd, I have some holes in my game, most of them pre-1970s.  Among those are a sizable majority of the hundreds of Best Picture nominees throughout the decades (as of this writing I'm at 214 out of 563 films).  So I've set myself a loose goal of watching as many of these unseen films as I can before this year's ceremony.  I can't say for sure how far I'll get, but whatever's left at the end of April is fair game for next year's award's season... 

Anyway, the first entry I decided to tackle was the 1931 Western epic Cimarron, directed by Wesley Ruggles and starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne as a married couple who were among the first settlers of the Oklahoma Territory in 1889.  Dix plays Yancey Cravat, an attorney and newspaper man who becomes one of the most revered citizens of the new town of Osage after killing a feared outlaw and starting the Oklahoma Wigwam newspaper.  His tireless journalistic efforts (most notably on behalf of Native American rights) and fearlessness in the face of danger (such as fending off a second gang of outlaws years later) elevate his status to near-legendary, and as the town grows into a proper center of industry (by the early 1900s it's teeming with oil producers), so does Yancey's stock among the people, even as he leaves for years at a time to settle new lands elsewhere.  His wife Sabra runs the newspaper in his absence and goes on to become Oklahoma's first female member of Congress, ultimately joining her husband in advancing pro-Native American legislation. 

Based on a 1929 novel, Cimarron deals heavily with the themes of American expansion and the entrepreneurial spirit, while also an early example of a film confronting the issue of racism; for years Sabra is fervently anti-Native American even as her husband publishes editorials arguing for their citizenship, but eventually she comes around to the right side of history.  Recent appraisals of the film rightly highlight its glaring racial stereotypes (not uncommon in the 1930s), and while the years haven't been kind to Cimarron in that regard, I did admire that its main protagonist was a local champion for Native American equality.  At least Cimarron ain't no Birth of a Nation....

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1993)

Welcome to the third, and most disappointing installment of WCW SuperBrawl!

SuperBrawl III - Asheville Civic Center - 2.21.93

WCW circa early 1993 still fell under the Bill Watts regime, when the product was stripped-down and gritty.  This made for a nice focus on the in-ring product but also made the bigger shows feel very plain.  I've never been huge on pomp & circumstance, but a touch of it is nice on the big PPVs.  Anyway, the company had come off a creatively pretty successful 1992 and had built up a solid roster of older stars and solid young workers, and their biggest-ever star would make his return on this show.

Steve Austin & Brian Pillman vs. Marcus Bagwell & Erik Watts was a very fun opener.  The future Hollywood Blonds already had great chemistry and used old-school diversionary heel tactics, while Bagwell was once a capable babyface and Watts, despite not at all being over, could work a decent match.  This went probably five minutes longer than it needed to but it was quite good for its place on the card.

Chris Benoit vs. 2 Cold Scorpio was an excellent mix of grappling, counterwrestling, and aerial moves.  These guys meshed really well and despite some slow points in the third act this was easily watchable all the way through.  The finish came when they traded rollups with only seconds left in the time limit, and Scorpio caught Benoit with a pin at 19:59.  Nice timing to get the decision just before the clock reached zero.  Helluva good match, though I wish it had been a few minutes shorter.  By the end it felt like they were filling time to get to the final second.

Wait, I thought top rope moves were banned at this point....

Davey Boy Smith had recently debuted in WCW (a surreal sight if there ever was one), and the third match on this show was a glorified squash to showcase his remarkable skills.  His opponent was the doughy Bill Irwin, who was given very little offense.  The match was passable just because Davey's moveset was entertaining.  But otherwise a throwaway.

Next up was a helluva wild brawl, as Cactus Jack took on Paul Orndorff (freakishly shriveled right arm and all) in a Falls Count Anywhere match.  While tame by today's standards (hell, even by 1996 standards), this was highly engaging and featured several unique Mick Foley spots, like when he got suplexed across the security railing; in 1993 that must've made people cringe.  Orndorff dominated much of the action but Jack secured the win by bashing him over the head with a shovel.  Fun stuff.

How graceful...

Another fun match was next as The Rock n' Roll Express faced The Heavenly Bodies.  This match would oddly take place nine months later on a WWF PPV, which I believe makes it the only match to happen in both companies during the same year.  The only difference was the presence of Stan Lane, who would retire shortly after this and be replaced by Jimmy Del Ray.  This was your basic 80s style RnR Express match, where they control the first half and Jim Cornette's team play the buffoons for a while, then take over on offense after an underhanded spot.  The finish was overbooked and pretty clumsy, like no one was sure how to end it.  Bobby Eaton unsuccessfully ran in, and after several bad-looking near-falls, Robert Gibson won with the worst-executed splash ever.  Decent match overall though.

WWE Elimination Chamber 2021 Preview & Predictions

It's time for WWE's Elimination Chamber, or as my wife likes to call it, Menimination Mamber.  To me the phrase "elimination chamber" sounds like a room you poop in.  "I'll be back in 20 minutes, I'm just gonna hit the elimination chamber before the movie starts...."

Anywho, it's Chamber time, and usually that means we get a couple of fun garbage matches involving a few credible participants and some filler.  No women's Chamber this year, which is odd.  In fact there's only one women's match on the card at all, and it's now up in the air.  But we'll get to that.  Let's pick some winners....

US Championship Triple Threat: Bobby Lashley vs. Keith Lee vs. Matt Riddle

Yeah, I refuse to just call him "Riddle."  What is with Vince's predilection toward single-word names?  Why can't he just be Matt Riddle?  What, in case he leaves in a few years, you want everyone to be like "MATT Riddle??  Who's that?  I know a fella named Riddle, but never heard of this Matt person you mentioned."  Jeezus H. Christ.  Anyway, this match should be solid as long as Matt isn't presented as a chump.  He had a good showing in the Rumble and should come off as a credible challenger.  Keith Lee is long overdue for some kind of real push, as opposed to the Vince McMahon three-week special everyone seems to get.  One of these guys ought to dethrone Lashley.  But they probably won't.  

Pick: Lashley retains

RAW Women's Championship: Asuka vs. TBD

So this match was supposed to see Lacey Evans challenge Asuka, and I was dreading the fuck out of a Lacey win leading to Charlotte challenging her at WrestleMania to further their stupid fucking feud.  Would've been yet another case of Asuka getting screwed over for Mania season.  But it turns out Lacey is pregnant and is therefore off the show.  So who gets the shot now?  No idea.  Usually a surprise opponent means that person is winning.  Maybe Becky is coming back to reclaim the championship she never lost?  Seems silly to not advertise the return of Becky Lynch, but who knows?  Maybe Rhea Ripley gets the call-up?  Anyway, I hate to bet against Asuka and I hate even more that Vince doesn't seem to have a WrestleMania plan for her, basically ever.  But you never bet against the surprise opponent.

Pick: TBD

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Top Ten Things: Wrestling PPVs of the 90s

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at!

Today it's a countdown of the ten best PPV events of the 1990s!  In the middle of the decade the PPV calendar exploded, as the WWF and WCW were jockeying for position as the top wrestling company in North America.  What had been a sparse schedule of 4-5 PPVs a year turned into a monthly rotation of special events.  WCW expanded first, increasing their offerings to ten per year, which prompted the WWF to create two-hour PPVs to supplement their Big Five schedule.  The B-shows were dubbed In Your House, and each had a sub-title to distinguish them.  You all know the Monday Night War history - both companies raised the stakes on an almost weekly basis hoping to win the ratings battle, and by the end of 1997 each was offering a full 3-hour PPV every month.  The wrestling landscape evolved quickly and abruptly during this time period, and the product on both sides became a pop culture phenomenon, breaking buyrate records like crazy.

So which PPVs were the best of the decade?  Given the deep pool of shows to choose from it was tough narrowing it down, but I think I've assembled a list of ten that holds up quite well.  Here we go....

10. Royal Rumble '93

The 1993 Rumble had no right to be as good a show as it was.  Despite a very depleted roster the WWF managed an exceedingly fun Rumble PPV - from the fast-paced opening tag featuring WWF newcomers The Steiners vs. The Beverly Brothers, to the much-anticipated clash of former partners Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, to the excellent Bret Hart-Razor Ramon WWF Title match, the undercard was easily the strongest of any Rumble show to date.  The Rumble match itself suffered from a paper-thin lineup and very few viable contenders, but amazingly it was still a well-worked match with several memorable moments.  This was the year Yokozuna emerged from the pack to become the company's monster heel Champion, enjoying the longest run of any heel WWF Champ since the late 70s.  Even with very little star power the '93 Rumble boasted two good-to-great Title matches, two solid undercard matches, and a decent if thin Rumble match - hardly a thing to sneeze at.

9. Spring Stampede '94

WCW's last great PPV before its transformation into 80s WWF was this somewhat forgotten gem featuring a spectacular Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat Title match that, while not quite on the level of their legendary 1989 trilogy, was still one of the best matches of 1994.  The two masters grappled to a grueling 32-minute draw which ended with a double pinfall.  Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel held up the Title pending a rematch on WCW Saturday Night, itself a stellar contest.  Elsewhere on the card Vader and The (Big) Boss(man) had a bruising 9-minute fight, Steve Austin defended the US Title against The Great Muta, and The Nasty Boys had a crazy Chicago Street Fight against Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne.  WCW was sadly about to lose its identity, but Spring Stampede hearkened back to the company's glory years with a consistently entertaining card capped off by a fantastic main event.

8. SuperBrawl II

In the early 90s WCW introduced a new annual PPV, SuperBrawl, which in many ways became the new flagship show.  Part of that had to do with Starrcade being repurposed as a BattleBowl special in '91 and '92, but also the early SuperBrawl PPVs had loaded match lineups with big-time main events.  Case in point was the second installment.  Leading off with a Brian Pillman-Jushin "Thunder" Liger Jr. Heavyweight classic set the tone for a memorable night.  After a few somewhat forgettable undercard bouts like Marcus Bagwell vs. Terry Taylor, Cactus Jack vs. Ron Simmons (which should've gotten more time), and Van Hammer/Z-Man vs. Richard Morton/Vinnie Vegas (which should've gotten less time), the show hit its stride with four big matchups in a row.  Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes faced Steve Austin and Larry Zbyszko, Tag Team Champs Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton defended against The Steiners, Rick Rude retained the US Title vs. Ricky Steamboat, and Sting regained the WCW Title over former best friend Lex Luger, who left for the WWF after this show.  While SB2 lacked a true Match of the Year contender, it was nevertheless a pretty unrelentingly good PPV with a lot of early 90s WCW star power.

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1992)

Welcome back to The History of WCW SuperBrawl!

SuperBrawl II - Milwaukee Theater - 2.29.92

The second edition was a streamlined eight-match show that made great use of WCW's thinning roster and put the focus back on a strong in-ring product.  1992 was the year the company got back to basics and this show set the tone.  Flair's 1991 departure had left a huge hole in the roster and this was where that wound finally started healing over.  Jesse Ventura made his WCW debut on this show and it's great now to hear him and Jim Ross as a broadcast team.  Interestingly Ventura was the first to point out that if Ross wore a cowboy hat he'd look like JR from Dallas.  I think Vince owes Ventura credit for Ross's WWF marketability as Good Ol' JR.

Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Brian Pillman was a goddamn helluvan opening match, for the Light Heavyweight Title.  This match showcased all kinds of action North American fans weren't yet accustomed to and helped introduce Liger to a new audience.  There was a miscue or two but overall this was full of great false finishes and big high spots.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash.

This was crazy goddamn stuff for 1992

Second was Terry Taylor, under the Ted Dibiase-esque "Taylor Made Man" persona, against Marcus Bagwell.  What really should've been a throwaway was actually pretty entertaining while it lasted.  The ending was totally flat and felt like a mistake (the wrestlers even kept going after the pin was counted), but otherwise not too bad.

Cactus Jack vs. Ron Simmons was next and these two beat the hell out of each other for six-and-a-half minutes.  Much like Pillman vs. Windham the year before, this was way better than its running time would suggest.  Damn good slugfest.

Mankind beats up Faarooq

The one match I was dreading was Van Hammer & Tom Zenk vs. Richard Morton & Vinnie Vegas, but actually this was not as bad as it looked on paper.  The action was fine when Zenk and/or Morton was in the ring but Kevin Nash was pretty bad in 1992.  I'm not sure why they thought turning Morton heel was ever a good idea.  This went longer than it should've but it was still watchable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1991)

Welcome to another PPV History series!  Today we'll be talking about WCW's secondary tentpole show, SuperBrawl!

Introduced in 1991, SuperBrawl was obviously meant as a flagship show on par with Starrcade.  The first edition was in May of that year before it was moved to February going forward.  In many cases SuperBrawl featured rematches from the previous Starrcade, and in some cases, particularly when Starrcade had a non-traditional format, SuperBrawl felt like the bigger show.

But let's take a look at the full history of this PPV series.....

SuperBrawl - Bayfront Arena - 5.19.91

The inaugural show was built around an international rematch from the WCW/NJPW Supershow, where Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Title, but not the WCW World Title.  This was during the messy NWA-to-WCW transition period, where the lineage of the two championships was muddy at best (New Japan only recognized the NWA Title in the first match).  So a rematch was signed to reunify the belts, but in the US only the WCW Title was acknowledged for some reason.  The PPV was loaded up with 12 matches, several of which could've easily been trimmed, but still had some worthy bouts, particularly toward the end.

The show opened with The Fabulous Freebirds vs. the Young Pistols in a decent little tag bout for the vacant US Tag belts.  Pistols got screwed thanks to outside interference.  Nothing compared to the Pistols' match with the Midnight Express, but solid enough.

Dan Spivey vs. Ricky Morton was a shockingly entertaining squash, and what's more shocking is how agile Spivey used to be.  If only that Dan Spivey had played Waylon Mercy, he'd have been a great upper midcard heel in the WWF.

Nikita Koloff vs. Tommy Rich was another glorified squash to get Koloff over again as a monster heel.  Rich's career high took place when he won the NWA Title at 21.  He never got pushed hard again.

Dustin Rhodes vs. Terrence Taylor was pretty good.  Dustin looked more jacked than I ever remember seeing him.  He'd just returned to WCW and got an undefeated streak, which continued here after failed outside interference from Mr. Hughes.  I definitely underrated Dustin for many years, as even in a minor undercard match he could go.

Two pointless squashes followed, taking valuable time away from the real bouts.  Big Josh (soon to be Doink the Clown) beat Black Bart, and Oz (soon to be Vinnie Vegas, later to be Diesel, later to be Kevin Nash, later to be Mr. Quad Tear) killed Tim Parker.  Why anyone thought these were PPV-worthy I don't know.

Lotta blood

A shockingly good Taped Fist match was next (what a dumb stipulation) as Barry Windham beat the piss out of Brian Pillman.  Both guys bled early and this had some pretty violent action, particularly a spot where Windham pulled Pillman off the entrance ramp and carried him down head-first on the security railing.  Looked great.  For only six minutes this was pretty damn good.

The History of NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day

NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day was another very strong effort by WWE's good brand, boasting two pretty excellent men's title bouts, a pair of action-packed Dusty Classic finals, and a solid Women's Championship three-way.  As usual there was nothing bad on the show and its two-and-a-half-hour running time didn't overstay its welcome.  Nothing much to complain about here.

The hot opener pitted Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez against Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart in the Women's Dusty Classic final.  This was all action from start to finish, and while sloppy in spots, everyone worked very hard.  Gonzalez came off as the star here, actually playing the monster babyface in peril for much of the middle act, despite being on the heel side.  Both babyfaces worked her over for a long time but she just kept getting up.  The finish came after Gonzalez threw Ember off the entrance ramp and then powerbombed Shotzi, and both heels covered her for the pin (Not sure why it's legal for both members of a tag team to pin someone).  They celebrated like babyfaces when presented with their trophy, so I wonder if the plan is for them to turn good.  I suppose since they'll be challenging WWE Women's Champions Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler this makes sense.  Solid match that felt a little too chaotic at times.  ***1/2

One of the two expected show stealers was next as Johnny Gargano defended the North American Title against Kushida in a highly technical match.  Kushida spent the entire 25 minutes working over or attempting to work over Gargano's arms to soften them up for the Hoverboard Lock.  Kushida came off as a dominant technical wizard, usually staying a step ahead of the champion, while Gargano often had to resort to desperation moves to escape, such as getting Kushida tangled in the ropes and falling backward to pull Kushida's face into the top rope.  The most spectacular moment of the match saw both men on the top turnbuckle as Kushida executed a combination Spanish Fly/armbar from the top all the way to the mat.  Gargano managed to retain the title after hitting his slingshot DDT on the apron, followed by another inside the ring.  Helluva contest where both guys looked great.  ****1/4

Friday, February 12, 2021

Top Ten Things: Wrestling PPVs of the 80s

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at, where I count down the ten best whatevers.....

Hey, who remembers a time when there wasn't a PPV or "special event" every 2-3 weeks and wrestling promotions could actually build their big shows up for months at a time?  Back in the 80s during the dawn of PPV, most of the big matches took place at house shows and occasionally on free TV specials like Saturday Night's Main Event.  But a few times a year the WWF and the NWA would assemble a card so big and so special it could only be seen on TV if you paid for it.  Initially the PPV calendar only included 1-2 shows, but by the end of the decade the WWF had established a Big Four, while the NWA expanded to five events.  Here now are the ten best PPVs of the 1980s....

10. SummerSlam '89

The sophomore SummerSlam holds a special place for me.  It was far from a perfect show but at the time it just felt like a big deal, and from a star power perspective it was a pretty stacked PPV.  I was at the Saturday Night's Main Event taping a month prior when the company started building in earnest toward SummerSlam, so I really got into the hype for this show.  The main event was like an updated version of the '88 edition except now Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were on opposite sides, tagging up with Brutus Beefcake and Zeus, respectively.  The match was similar in tone to the previous year's main event - lighthearted, with a feelgood ending.  But the undercard was where this show really shined.  From the amazing Hart Foundation-Brain Busters opening tag, to the Rockers/Tito vs. Rougeaus/Martel six-man melee, to the fantastic Rick Rude-Ultimate Warrior Intercontinental Title rematch, SummerSlam '89 delivered big where it counted.  Sure there were some throwaways, but overall this is still a very fun watch.

9. Starrcade '83

Technically this wasn't a PPV event, but I'm still including it since it was the prototype for the medium.  Before the phenomenon known as WrestleMania swept the country (and later the world), Jim Crockett Promotions assembled what was at the time the biggest televised wrestling event in history.  Headlined by an epic Harley Race-Ric Flair cage match for the NWA Title, with a brutal Roddy Piper-Greg Valentine dog collar match and an athletic Brisco Brothers-Steamboat/Youngblood Tag Title bout, the inaugural Starrcade had more than its share of memorable early 80s action.  While the first half of the show could certainly be deemed forgettable, the big matches are all considered timeless classics.  On November 24, 1983 the NWA gave birth to the modern supercard, and it still makes for a fascinating pro wrestling history lesson.

8. Halloween Havoc '89

The first Halloween Havoc is sentimental for me because it was the first PPV event I ever ordered.  Why I chose this particular show as my first I'm not exactly sure, but it was actually a pretty stacked PPV with a ton of NWA star power.  The action-packed main event was the first-ever Thunderdome cage match pitting Ric Flair and Sting against Terry Funk and The Great Muta.  Elsewhere on the show, Lex Luger and Brian Pillman nearly stole the show for the US Title, The Road Warriors and the Skyscrapers engaged in a monster slugfest, the Steiners faced the brand new masked team called Doom, and The Midnight Express teamed with Steve Williams in a wild battle against the three-man Samoan Swat Team.  I consider HH'89 a bit of a forgotten gem, as it was one of the most consistently entertaining shows of a pretty packed NWA calendar year.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of NXT predictions, here at!

Well, since I signed back up to the WWE Network a couple weeks ago to watch the Royal Rumble (which was a middling show), why not revisit the one good part of WWE's current programming, the NXT brand?  This Sunday is the latest TakeOver special, and it looks like quite a doozy actually.  It's been a full year since I watched any NXT, so this will be refreshing.  Three strong title matches and two Dusty Classic finals.  Pretty stacked little card I'd say.

Men's Dusty Classic Final: MSK vs. Grizzled Young Veterans

I don't know squat about either of these teams.  I think they're both supposed to be good, so this match oughta be good.  I guess I'll go with GYV to take this.  Why?  Well because they're grizzled.  And they're young.  And they're definitely veterans.

Pick: The allegedly gray, not-so-old, experienced wrestlers

Women's Dusty Classic Final: Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez vs. Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart

Kind of an underwhelming final here, but I reckon there's enough talent involved to make it work.  Kai & Gonzalez are the big heel duo in the NXT women's division so I think I'll pick them.  Remember when Ember was on the main roster?  Why didn't that work out?

Pick: Dakota & Raquel

Top Ten Things: Iron Maiden Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, where I pick my ten favorite somethingorother and bug all of you about it.

Today it's my ten favorite Iron Maiden songs! 

One of the most influential metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden was formed in the mid-70s by bassist Steve Harris.  Over the first few years the band went through various incarnations, hiring and firing band members with a frequency that would make Spinal Tap cringe.  Finally in 1980 they released their self-titled debut album and immediately gained a strong UK following, in competition with the burgeoning punk scene.  Bands like Maiden, Diamondhead, Venom, Motorhead, and several others formed a musical zeitgeist called The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (which influenced literally dozens of bands here in the States).  Maiden was soon forced to sack lead singer Paul D'Anno due to his increasing drug issues, and his replacement was diminutive onstage firecracker Bruce Dickinson, who brought incredible vocal range/power and athletic physicality to the role of frontman.  Their third album The Number of the Beast was a No. 1 smash hit in the UK and propelled Iron Maiden to international stardom.  A slew of successful albums followed, containing scores of classic songs, until Dickinson left the band in 1993 to pursue a solo career.  His successor Blaze Bayley recorded two albums to a rather tepid reaction, and in 1999 Dickinson was coaxed back into the fold.

Over the past fifteen years Maiden has released five more albums and embarked on several hugely successful world tours, and they remain a chart-topping worldwide phenomenon.  Their music has evolved a bit over the years but they've always maintained their signature galloping energy and  literature-inspired lyrics.  Their onstage enthusiasm continues to defy the band members' advancing age, and they routinely deliver an amazing live concert experience.  A side note: historically just as mythical as the band's music are the album covers and other associated imagery.  For years artist Derek Riggs created some of the greatest cover art in music history, featuring the band's undead mascot Eddie the Head.  A few of my favorite Riggs pieces are the covers of Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and Live After Death.

But enough about that; here are my picks for the Top Ten Iron Maiden songs of all time.

**Note: While I like and appreciate some of their 21st Century work, for me the classic Maiden period was 1980-1992, so all ten picks fall into that timeframe.**

10. The Trooper

Probably the most noteworthy song on 1983's Piece of Mind (Dickinson's favorite album), "The Trooper" kicks off with a start and stop feel, over which Bruce barks a defiant battle cry ("You take my life but I'll take yours too/You fire your musket but I'll run you through").  The band then dives into charging pace as the wordless chorus takes over.  What other lasting metal tunes boast a refrain consisting of nothing more than "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!"

9. The Prophecy

Yeah I know this is from "The Clairvoyant,"
but I couldn't find a "Prophecy"-specific piece of art.

The first of two entries from Seventh Son, "The Prophecy" opens with a gentle clean guitar arpeggio before exploding into a heavy triplet groove.  Dickinson regretfully howls out a warning message to an unnamed group of villagers of their impending doom, which then goes unheeded.  "The Prophecy" is simple but tremendously hooky, jumping from a minor key verse into a major key chorus.  I also love the baroque acoustic guitar outro.

8. Iron Maiden

The one non-Dickinson song on this list is the self-titled final track of the self-titled debut album.  An uncomplicated, nihilistic metal anthem, the lyrics of "Iron Maiden" dare the listener to partake in the graphic violence of the band's music, despite the music's oddly cheery tone.  This song is akin to Metallica's "Whiplash;" simply an ode to the brutality of metal.