Monday, October 18, 2021

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


Visuals

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


Friday, October 15, 2021

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


Thursday, October 14, 2021

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


Makeup

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 13, 2021

Movie Review: Titane (2021)

Julia Ducournau, director of the triumphant body horror flick Raw, is back with her sophomore effort, an even more bizarre film, part body horror, part family drama I guess, known as Titane.


Titane is the story of a woman with a metal plate in her head (hence the title), the result of a severe car accident she suffered as a child, who now works as an exotic dancer at a car show and has a strange fetishistic fixation on automobiles.  Oh, and on top of that, she's a serial murderer.  

I'm going to issue a spoiler warning here, as it's more or less impossible to talk about this film without giving away some things....

So the main character, Alexia, has a sexual encounter with one of the muscle cars from the show (the logistics of this are left ambiguous), and goes on a killing spree that includes a co-worker (played by Raw's Garance Marillier) and her three roommates, and ends with Alexia's own parents, before heading out on the lam.  While at a train station she sees a missing persons billboard about a boy named Adrien who disappeared a decade ago, and decides to change her appearance to match his, cutting off her hair, taping up her breasts and breaking her nose on the bathroom sink (in one of the film's cringiest moments).  She turns herself in as the missing boy, and Adrien's father Vincent picks her up at the police station, deluding himself that this person is in fact his missing child.  Despite the obvious truth that Alexia couldn't ever be mistaken for Adrien, the two of them live together as father and son, and Vincent, a fire chief, takes "Adrien" under his wing as a firefighter/EMT trainee.  Oh and one more thing, Alexia discovers she's pregnant with the....car's....baby?  She begins to drip motor oil from various parts of her body and later the skin on her belly starts to tear, revealing a chrome plate matching the one attached to her skull.

Weirded out yet?  

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Top Ten Things: King of the Ring PPV Matches

Welcome one and all to a special edition of Enuffa.com's Top Ten Things!  In light of the return of the WWE King of the Ring tournament once again, I thought I'd assemble my list of the ten greatest matches to take place at the once-historic King of the Ring PPV event.


The King of the Ring tournament was originally a special house show attraction held annually in New England, before the WWF decided to add it to the PPV schedule in 1993.  At the time the WWF calendar only featured the Big Four PPV events, so creating a fifth was a pretty huge deal.  The inaugural edition was built around making Bret Hart a top babyface again after WrestleMania IX hurt his stock somewhat.  Bret carried the show, working three good-to-excellent matches and winning the tourney before Jerry Lawler abruptly attacked him during the coronation ceremony.  It was an uneven show but featured some excellent work from "The Hitman."

The KOTR PPV history contains quite a few highs and lows.  The '94 edition only had a few matches worth seeing while 1995's had none.  But the '96, '98 and 2001 PPVs were all varying degrees of excellent (2001 is one of my all-time favorite PPVs).  King of the Ring would run a full decade before sagging buyrates prompted the company to discontinue the series and replace it with Bad Blood.

The tournament itself would return to free television in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015, and of course this year, with generally very little impact on star-building.  The '06 winner Booker T made the most of the "King" gimmick, adopting an obviously phony English accent which was amusing for a while.  William Regal's tourney win in 2008 led to precisely nothing of value, while Sheamus's victory in 2010 actually hurt his career for about eight months as he free-fell down the card.  2015's winner Wade Barrett was maybe the crown's worst victim, as his career went into a tailspin from which he never really recovered.

Truth be told I do miss the KOTR PPV.  The tournament itself was rarely presented well; if it was a one-night bracket most of the matches got shortchanged, and if only the semis and finals were included on the PPV the tourney felt less important.  But several rising stars were able to use the tourney as a major stepping stone, and when the PPV was good it was great.  If they were to bring it back now I'd suggest having the winner of the tournament get a PPV Title match of their choice, have the first two rounds on episodes of RAW and Smackdown the week before the PPV, and have the semis and finals on the PPV itself, with the finals ALWAYS being the main event.  Then the King of the Ring would actually mean something again.

But let's go back and look at some of the in-ring classics to come out of this once-important event.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Alien Resurrection

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

Since I examined the gorgeously shot suckfest that was Alien 3 last week, I thought I'd move on to its sequel, 1997's Alien Resurrection.


As I mentioned last time, the third Alien film was a massive disappointment for me, as I'd been led to believe (through no fault of my own, mind you - d'ya need to see that teaser again?) that we'd get a true continuation of Aliens, wherein there'd be some sort of battle between xenomorphs and humans taking place on Earth.  Instead we got a languid, uninspired retread of the first movie, with one alien killing off humans in a confined location, Ten Little Indians-style.  Then Ripley dies.  I hated it.  I hated it all.  The franchise that should really have ended after two films got a completely unnecessary, tacked-on third installment just so Ripley could be killed off.

Fast-forward five years, and suddenly the series was resurrected (I see what they did there...), with a Ripley clone having been created 200 years after her death, on a military/scientific vessel that has begun experimenting with the aliens.  As part of the breeding process the scientists on board have illegally purchased cryo-frozen humans for use as hosts.  A mercenary ship arrives, delivering said hosts, but before long the aliens escape captivity and all hell breaks loose.  That's about all there is to the plot of this film, though I guess that's about twice as long as the premise of the third film.

My hope going into this was that it would really be something different and maybe even right the ship.  We'd finally see something in line with my expectations for Alien 3, or so I thought.  As it turned out Resurrection was just as poorly received as 3 (if not moreso), and the possibility of ever seeing another truly good Alien film again was all but gone.

Still, Resurrection did have some intriguing elements, some amusing horror-action, and plenty of gooey xenomorphs.  Let's take a closer look at this awesomely shitty movie....

(Note: I think if I were making a fourth film around this time I'd have simply revealed at the outset that Alien 3 was a dream, and have Ripley wake up from cryosleep to find Newt and Hicks still slumbering in their pods.  Then the story would adhere closer to the original Alien III script, where the xenos end up on Earth and the company actually intends on exploiting them for their Weapons division.  But that's just me.)




The Awesome


Something Different

After the dull, lazy retread that was Alien 3, it was nice to see the franchise go in a different direction with this film.  Ripley is back, but as a clone of the original character, and with a bit of xenomorph DNA which gives her some superhuman abilities.  It's corny, it's a bit comic booky, but hey, at least they tried something new with this film.  Setting it 200 years after Alien 3 also adds an element of the dystopian future, where the infrastructure is breaking down and mercenaries like the Betty crew have become commonplace.




Sigourno-morph

Sigourney Weaver clearly has a lot of fun with this new incarnation of Ripley, getting a chance to show off her newfound skills but also to convey the conflict arising from her longtime arch-nemesis now being a part of her.  This creature that has ruined her life is now ingrained in her biology.  A smarter, more thoughtful script would've done a lot more with this, but it's a start.  That theme comes into play later in the film when the alien queen seems to treat her almost as a loved one and the alien/human hybrid regards her as its mother.  Joss Whedon's script introduces some novel concepts for this franchise, and it's refreshing to see that at least. 

Oh, Ripley 8 will fuck you ups....



Friday, October 8, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Flatliners

At long last we're back with another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com!  For those unfamiliar, I take a popular (or not so popular) film, pick it apart, separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, and more or less ruin it for everyone.  Sooo, let's get after it....


Today I'll be talking about the 1990 suspense thriller Flatliners, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts, and directed by Joel Schumacher.  The premise involves a group of medical students who each decide to briefly experience death, hoping to prove once and for all what happens in the afterlife.  But each character unwittingly brings something back with them, and they all end up haunted by demons from their past.  Flatliners got mixed reviews but made a solid profit upon its release and later became a bit of a cult favorite.  Aaaand therefore Hollywood released a remake sequel a few years back.  Just fuckin' shameless, those people.....

But does the film actually work?  Let's take a closer look.



The Awesome


Acting

The whole cast is quite good in this film, from Keifer Sutherland's turn as the tormented visionary and original "flatliner" Nelson Wright, to Kevin Bacon as the likable pragmatist David Labraccio, to Julia Roberts as the generous and gentle Rachel Manus, to Oliver Platt and William Baldwin as the sarcastic worrier Randy Steckle and the hopeless horndog Joe Hurley, respectively.  Each actor gets clear territory to explore, and each of them brings their character to life admirably.  The two standouts are Sutherland and Bacon, who begin the film as best friends and gradually become romantic rivals as the story progresses.  I especially like the scene when they all confront Nelson outside David's apartment and all the cards are laid on the table.  Solid work all around.

A fine cast.  And handsome too.  Except Platt.  Sorry, that was mean....


Cinematography

Schumacher and Director of Photography Jan de Bont fill the frame with a visual richness and atmosphere that lends itself to the material and the mood.  Chicago's Loyola University served as the bulk of the film's locations, giving everything a very old-world, gothic feel.  The breathtaking opening helicopter shot for example takes the viewer across Lake Michigan right up to Kiefer as he stands on West Devon Ave.  This is a fine-looking film.

One of the most striking zoom-in shots I can recall.


Concept

The whole idea of a med student voluntarily dying so he can be revived with the secrets of life and death is certainly intriguing and creative.  It's oddly relatable on some level - who wouldn't want to know what lies beyond and live to tell about it?  Not to mention it's ripe material for farming cinematic suspense.  After all, reviving someone who's clinically dead is no exact science and there's little room for error.  The film doesn't explore this theme nearly as effectively as it could have (more on that in a bit), but the initial story idea was pretty inspired.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Lost Boys

Welcome back to Enuffa.com for another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies!  

Today we'll be examining the brazenly tawdry late-80s time capsule known as The Lost Boys.  Before the Twilight movies forever ruined the vampire genre Joel Schumacher gave us teenage vampire garbage we could really sink our teeth into.  Teeth, get it??  Cuz vampires like to bite people?  With their teeth? 

Buckle up and set the DeLorean for 1987, the heyday of such screen legends as Corey Haim, Corey Feldman (what's with all the Coreys??), Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, and the one teen heartthrob from this era whose career escaped more or less unscathed, Kiefer Sutherland.




Originally The Lost Boys was to be a Peter Pan-inspired film about pre-adolescent vampires, stemming from the idea that Peter could fly and never grew old (Kiefer's character was originally called Peter, while the protagonist brothers were Michael and John, later to be Michael and Sam).  However when Schumacher came on board he decided teenage characters would be much more marketable/sexier.

The resulting film is delightfully "late-80s," from the costumes, to the heavy metal-influenced fashion sense of the teenage characters, to the awesomely dated soundtrack, to the southern California setting.  It's a quintessential 80s summer movie.  And it's fantastically dumb.



The Awesome

The Cast

This movie's got a pretty great cast, all perfectly suited to their roles.  Corey Haim, while never ascending to the heights of great acting, was exactly right for the main character of Sam.  Sam is the audience's guide through the story, usually in way over his head and scared shitless the whole time.  Jason Patric as his older brother Michael is the character with the real arc (he goes from brooding, sullen prettyboy to brooding, sullen vampire), and he's the one whose relationship with the villains sets things in motion.  Dianne Wiest is excellent as always, as their mother Lucy.  Corey Feldman, whose childhood work was actually pretty underrated, is hilarious as the aspiring vampire killer Edgar Frog. 

Corey, Corey, and that other guy.

And of course the showstopper is Kiefer Sutherland as David, the leader of the vampire gang.  Sutherland was fresh off his breakout performance as teenage deliquent Ace Merrill in Stand By Me, and his performance here is similar, but with the volume turned way up.  In The Lost Boys he's a total badass motherfucker who repeatedly toys with the protagonists and kills rival gang members without remorse.  Great villain.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

An American Werewolf in London, Forty Years Later

Forty years later, why does An American Werewolf in London still resonate, scare, and get laughs?  Let's look back at this horror-comedy classic.....


An American Werewolf in London.  Sounds like the name of a Gene Kelly musical.  Or a Gene Wilder spoof.  Or a Gene Simmons KISS-branded product for sale at www.BuyKissCrap.com.  Okay, maybe not that last one.  No, An American Werewolf in London is for my money the greatest werewolf film ever made, the brainchild of a young assistant director named John Landis, then working on the Clint Eastwood war vehicle Kelly's Heroes.  Landis was inspired to write the script after witnessing a Yugoslav burial ritual in which the dead were interred feet-first and sprinkled with garlic cloves to prevent them coming back to life.  Struck by the solemnity of the ritual, Landis wondered how he would react if someone he knew was dead came back to life to visit him, and the creative spark for AWIL was ignited.  The script was completed in 1969 and its unique blend of scary and funny earned Landis numerous writing gigs, but no one wanted to actually produce this particular script, ironically due to said horror/comedy blend, which every producer deemed either too funny to be scary or too scary to be funny.  Fast-forward eleven years and two smash-hit movies, and Landis was finally able to secure financing for his gruesome pet project.  

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Alien 3

Welcome to another Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com, where I complain about someone else's hard work!


Today I'll be talking about one of my least favorite sequels ever, Alien 3!  Yup, it's gonna be a struggle to come up with many positives about this film, as I hate it.  HATE. IT.  But I wouldn't be telling the truth if I failed to talk about its good qualities.  Directed by the great David Fincher, Alien 3 is a stylish, exceedingly bleak sequel to the mega-popular thrill ride that was James Cameron's Aliens.  Picking up where that film left off, Alien 3 finds Ripley stranded on a penal planet populated by the worst criminals in the galaxy, when a stray alien breaks loose and starts butchering people by the dozen.  Ripley and the others must find a way, sans weapons, to kill the alien before a Weylan-Yutani supply ship arrives to bring the specimen back to Earth.  And, well, that's about it.  Nothing terribly complicated about this story, and the film was such a troubled production for the first-time director that Fincher has disowned the movie.  The studio began shooting without a completed script and questioned Fincher on nearly every creative idea, to the point that his intended cut was very different from the theatrical version (The "Assembly Cut" as it's called is widely considered superior to the latter, but I still don't like it).

But before I begin shredding this movie, let's take a look at what did work.....



The Awesome


Acting

Sigourney Weaver is back as Ellen Ripley of course, and she once again brings a sense of both empowerment and vulnerability to the role that made her famous.  She doesn't have quite the emotional arc here as she did in Aliens, but considering what she's given to work with she excels as always.  This film has a number of strong supporting performances as well, the two biggest standouts being the dignified and understated Charles Dance as Dr. Clemens, and Charles S. Dutton as the reformed murderer and spiritual leader of the prison, Dillon.  Add accomplished character actors such as Pete Postlethwaite and Brian Glover, and there's no shortage of convincing work on the acting front.

There are some fine thespians in this tripe movie.



Visuals

As with all of his films, Fincher lent Alien 3 a distintive, stylish look, with filthy, gothic sets and a muted color pallette of yellows and browns.  The one area where this film surpasses Aliens for me is its unique visual style.  This is a gorgeously photographed movie from a young director already demonstrating his superior skill.  'Tis a shame the story didn't have more going on, as it's akin to a beautifully painted but mostly empty landscape.

There are also some fine visuals.



Effects (mostly)

Most of the special effects in Alien 3 still hold up, from the grotesquely sloppy chestburster scene to the amazingly lifelike Bishop head/torso, to the frightening closeups of the full-size alien.  The blood n' guts look first-rate, and aside from terrible compositing of the rod puppet used in wide shots (The puppet looks great, the blue screening looks like garbage), any xenophile should be satisfied with the effects.

And a boss-looking alien.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Top Ten Things: Vampire Movies

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


Monday, September 27, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Dune

Good day and welcome to Awesomely Shitty Movies!  Each installment will focus on a film that, despite considerable and crippling flaws, I can't help but like or even love.  These flaws could be with the script, the acting, the special effects, the cinematography, or all of the above, but in each case the movie has something going for it and I'm inexplicably fascinated by it, despite its ineptitude.

The first movie I'll be tackling is David Lynch's commercially and critically reviled adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel Dune.


I was nine years old when this movie was released, and being a huge fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, I was immediately drawn in by the promise of sci-fi adventure.  In some ways the story of Dune resembled Star Wars (or really the reverse is true since the book was published 12 years before Star Wars was released) - a young hero with budding supernatural powers, a desert planet, laser guns, weird creatures, etc.  What I got though was a horribly confusing mish-mash of geo-political, religious and sci-fi themes overrun with baffling inner monologue narration and overly bizarre and gross-looking characters.

To be fair to Mr. Lynch, the studio interfered greatly during post-production and the theatrical cut was very different from what he intended.  Unfortunately he has all but disowned this film and has no interest in releasing a Director's Cut, which might actually make the story easier to follow.  There is a 3-hour version of the film available but Lynch had no hand in it, and from what I understand it actually confuses things even more.

Dune was originally supposed to be adapted into a film in the mid 70s, with famed Alien artist H.R. Giger attached as a production designer.  That incarnation went over-budget and never saw the light of day, and eventually in the 80s producer Dino DiLaurentiis acquired the project and David Lynch ended up in the Director's chair.

Anyway let's examine what's awesome about this movie, and then we'll talk about what's shitty.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Top Ten Things: Coen Brothers Films

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com, where I'll count down my ten favorite something-or-others....


Today's topic is Joel and Ethan Coen, the co-director brothers who specialize in strange characters, meticulously crafted dialogue, and sometimes head-scratching endings.  The Coens have built a tremendously diverse and idiosyncratic slate of films spanning multiple genres, often involving film noir elements and seedy criminals, but sometimes taking the form of a sardonic comedy or scathing satire.  I've been a fan of theirs more or less since they debuted with Blood Simple, but it was in the mid-90s that Joel and Ethan reached their full potential, and they've helmed multiple classics over the past thirty years.

But which Coen films are the best?  Let's look at the top ten now, shall we?




10. A Serious Man


This uncomfortable dark comedy about a physics professor whose life begins spiraling out of control was quietly nominated for multiple Oscars and largely flew under the radar.  Michael Stuhlbarg stars as Larry Gopnik, a husband and father of two whose wife wants to leave him for his best friend, and whose slightly delinquent kids don't respect him.  Stuhlbarg carries the film with an understatedly comic performance, reacting to each new hardship with annoyed disbelief.  The Larry character reminds me a bit of Barton Fink in that he never seems to give up hope or accept that he's simply screwed.  The film has a philosophical tone but ultimately appears to arrive at the conclusion that bad things sometimes happen to people just because.  An unexpectedly strong inclusion to the Coens' filmography.





9. Raising Arizona


This zany western-comedy stars Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a robber and cop, respectively, who inexplicably fall in love and decide to steal a baby from a rich couple who has just had quintuplets.  But soon Cage's ex-cellmates escape prison and pay him a visit, and he goes back to armed robbery, while the baby's actual parents hire a grizzled bounty hunter to retrieve their child.  The film blends screwball elements with those of Mad Max to show off the Coens' bizarre sense of humor, and also marks their first of several brilliant collaborations with John Goodman.





8. Barton Fink


Possibly the weirdest Coen Brothers film is this dark, moody period piece set in 1941, about a playwright-turned-screenwriter plagued with writer's block.  John Turturro's title character lives in a Hollywood hotel and befriends his next door neighbor Charlie (John Goodman), who turns out to be a brutal serial killer.  This psychological drama was written over three weeks while Joel and Ethan struggled to complete the Miller's Crossing script, and though difficult to fully categorize, contains elements of film noir, horror and surrealism.  Barton Fink is read by some as symbolic of the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe, while others see it as a parable about a man trapped in Hell.  Whatever the interpretation, Barton Fink is a darkly unique, haunting entry in the Coen pantheon.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam: A Modern-Day Clash of the Champions

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam.  What a fuckin' show.  Five matches, one of which ranks among the best free television matches I've ever seen, the rest of which were really good at worst.  This show combined the splendor and big fight atmosphere of a stacked Saturday Night's Main Event with the wrestling quality of the first Clash of the Champions (and even included a time limit draw).  Tony Khan said there would be four Clash-style Dynamites a year, and this show fit that description to a tee.  Light on angles and heavy on wrestling, this show felt like a two-hour PPV event and if you're a lapsed wrestling fan this is the type of show you should seriously give a chance to get back into it. 


The show began, shockingly, with Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson, in front of an absolutely nuclear crowd of 20,000-plus.  The two in-ring masters started off slow and methodical and gradually built to a war of attrition, breaking out many, but not all of, their big moves, leaving some stuff on the table for an inevitable rematch.  Danielson frustrated Kenny with his mat grappling, harkening back to his Ring of Honor days at times (including, much to my delight, "I have till five!"), and working over the shoulder to soften it up for the LeBell Lock.  Omega fired back with chops that left a road map of welts on Bryan's chest, while also attacking his neck.  Both men zeroed in on the body part their respective finishers target.  As the match wore on the moves got bigger and higher impact.  Kenny hit numerous V-Triggers, including one where Bryan was propped up on the ring apron and Kenny ran all the way down the ramp before delivering the knee.  At one point Bryan broke out his old finisher Cattle Mutilation, but Kenny reached the ropes to break it.  Kenny went for the One Winged Angel numerous times but Bryan kept avoiding it.  Near the end of the bout Bryan went for the running knee but Kenny countered into a powerbomb.  Bryan avoided a Phoenix Splash attempt and hit his buzzsaw kick before attempting the LeBell Lock, but Kenny reached the ropes before he could lock it in.  Time ran out as the two men were laying into each other, and the Elite ran down to break it up, Matt and Nick Jackson superkicking Bryan in the corner.  This match was goddamn fantastic and I can't wait to watch it again.  If I'm booking this draw I'd probably have Bryan lock in his submission just before the bell so Kenny wouldn't have time to tap out, but otherwise this was a brilliantly worked professional wrestling main event.  Just wonderful.  ****3/4


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

WWE Extreme Rules 2021 Preview & Predictions

WWE Extreme Rules is this Sunday and it's such a low priority for the company we only have six announced matches, only one of which is an Extreme Rules match.  On the Extreme Rules show.  This company straight up doesn't give a fuck anymore about anything but Saudi money and quick ratings bumps.


Of the six matches on this show, four look pretty good actually.  They'll probably toss one or two more on there last-minute.  I hope one of them involves Shinsuke Nakamura.  Seriously, when was the last time that guy got to wrestle a singles match on a PPV?  Anyone?  I'd look it up but I don't have that kinda time.  How an in-ring artist like Nakamura can be content wrestling for this company I'm sure I don't know.

Anyway let's take a look at this half-assed card.




Liv Morgan vs. Carmella


The hell is this doing here?  I like Liv Morgan but why is this match on a PPV while the Intercontinental Champion sits in catering?  I would hope Liv wins this and the company does something meaninful with her; she has a lot of potential and has for a while now.

Pick: Liv




Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Usos vs. Street Profits


This should be fine.  Usos are a damn fine team, Street Profits are quite capable.  This will be a lovely free TV match.

Pick: Usos retain, no reason to take the belts off them right now.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

AEW Grand Slam Preview & Predictions

Ho-lee shit.  What a lineup AEW has on tap this week, a mega-awesome-super episode of Dynamite and a two-part PPV-quality card emanating from Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, NY.  It's two hours on Wednesday, followed by two hours on Friday, and there are big matches up and down the card. 


It's an exciting time to be a pro wrestling fan.  Defections, surprises, dream matches, and as we learned this week, new relationships forged between organizations.  That's right, AEW is partnering with Dr. Martha Hart and the Owen Hart Foundation to honor the memory of the late, great Owen himself, tragically taken from us at the age of 34.  Not only will new Owen merch be created (I assume some of the proceeds will go to the Foundation), but AEW will hold an annual Owen Hart Memorial tournament.  Love it.

Anyway, we're here to talk Grand Slam, and this Wednesday's show especially is STACKED.  So let's pick some winners....



Dynamite


MJF vs. Brian Pillman Jr.


MJF has been ON FIRE on the mic since his loss to Chris Jericho at All Out, and his first target was the family of Brian Pillman in the latter's hometown of Cincinnati.  Pillman Jr. took issue with MJF's scathing promo and a new mini-feud was born.  This is obviously designed to give MJF a high-profile win after his PPV loss, but it will also no doubt elevate Pillman as a rising babyface star.  One thing I love about AEW is the thought that goes into feuds like this; in wrestling you want both the winner and the loser to get more over than they were prior to the match, and AEW has been working very hard to make sure that happens as often as possible.  Pillman will get plenty of room to shine but ultimately MJF and his ruthlessness will win the day, likely with further teases of an MJF-Wardlow feud.  This should be a fine match.

Pick: MJF




Sting & Darby Allin vs. FTR


I'm not quite sure how you book this.  I think FTR really needs a big win as they've been sort of treading water since the Inner Circle feud ended.  Then again, Allin is also coming off a major loss.  Sting could certainly stand to eat a pin here, though maybe the company wants to save that for a bigger moment.  It sounds like they're building toward a Sting-Tully match of some sort, which is odd.  I dunno, I guess you never bet against Sting and Darby.  Should be decent.

Pick: Sting & Darby

Monday, September 20, 2021

Top Ten Things: Brock Lesnar Matches

What's up folks?  Welcome to Enuffa.com's Top Ten Things, where I'll count down the ten best (or worst) of whatever's on my mind.



Today's list is the ten best matches in the storied career of former WWE/Universal Champion Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar is undoubtedly one of the best pure athletes to ever set foot in a wrestling ring.  He took the company by storm upon his debut in 2002 and in just two short years won three WWE Championships, the Royal Rumble, and the King of the Ring tournament, not to mention main eventing his first-ever WrestleMania. 

He left the company in 2004 to pursue an NFL career, and after falling just short of being picked up by the Minnesota Vikings, ventured into MMA, where his UFC career mirrored his first WWE stint.  Brock had a 5-3 MMA career that included a two-year run as the UFC Heavyweight Champion, making him one of only three men with two consecutive successful UFC Heavyweight Title defenses (his predecessor Randy Couture and his successor Cain Velasquez are the other two).

In 2011 he retired from MMA, but he'd return to WWE in April of 2012, making an instant splash by challenging the company's top star John Cena, ending the Undertaker's legendary WrestleMania winning streak, and once again becoming the Champion.  Since his return Lesnar only wrestles sporadically with mixed results, but each match has had a "big fight" feel, and a few of them have been instant classics.  Let's take a look at The Best of The Beast.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Top Ten Things: Nine Inch Nails Songs

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!


Today I'm talking about the music of one of my favorite bands/artists, who I didn't get into until 2009 (You read that right, I was very late to the game), Nine Inch Nails.  I discussed my years-in-the-making appreciation for Mr. Reznor's most successful musical venture HERE, so I won't bore you with those details again, but I thought I'd narrow down what are in my opinion his ten greatest songs, from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine all the way up to 2013's Hesitation Marks (Nothing from Not the Actual Events, Add Violence, or Bad Witch made the cut for me).  NIN's output has been so varied and unapologetically experimental it was tough to limit this list to ten (Honorable Mentions include "Hurt," "In This Twilight," and "Into the Void"), but if I hadn't I'd be forced to call this Top Twenty-Seven Things, and that just sounds weird.  Like the music on Ghosts I-IV...

Anyway here are my ten favorite Nine Inch Nails songs.



10. Zero Sum


The closing track from my favorite NIN album Year Zero is more or less exactly what the title suggests - a Year Zero Summation.  The concept album portrays a near-future dystopia in which corporate interests and power-hungry politicians have taken over (just like now!), the populace is hopelessly hooked on mind-altering drugs (just like now!), and about halfway through, a superior species (or maybe God) issues a warning to the human race to change its tune or face extinction (just like-- wait, that hasn't happened yet...).  "Zero Sum" presents us with the end of the story; humanity has failed in its charge, and so dozens of gigantic alien hands reach down through the sky to crush us all to powder.  I'd love to see this album adapted as a film (HBO was developing a TV series but that fell through).  Musically the song is sparse and features Reznor's spoken word lament before a poppy, piano-driven chorus takes over: "Shame on us/Doomed from the start/May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts..."  This song is the perfect way to close this remarkable, evocative album.




9. Closer


The song that put NIN on the map (from the psychologically unsettling concept album that did the same) was this creepy disco-esque number about sex as an escape from the narrator's terrifyingly unbalanced state of mind.  I hated, HATED this song when it came out, and it wasn't until 15 years later that I finally accepted its simplistic genius.  It's one of the perviest songs I've ever heard and it really shouldn't inspire anything but revulsion, and yet it became a universally-loved crossover hit for its toe-tapping dance groove and infamously explicit hook line, "I wanna fuck you like an animal."  The bizarrely disturbing video brings this song to visual life in a way that truly captures Reznor's demented imagination.




8. Copy of a


In 2013 NIN returned from a four-year hiatus with Hesitation Marks, a fairly safe but very enjoyable collection of sparse, beat-driven songs, the first of which is "Copy of a."  This track features a repeated polyrhythm throughout, as a 5/16 synth figure plays over the song's 4/4 time.  Reznor's vocals are rather gently delivered as he ruminates about lacking personality and purpose.  The song (like many tracks on this album) has a less-is-more feel to it, never overstaying its welcome or veering into melodrama, and serves as a very welcome return for Reznor & co.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

NJPW G1 Climax 31 Preview & Predictions

It's September during COVID, and that means it's time for NJPW's G1 Climax tournament!


Welp, this year's extravaganza of round-robin wrestling looks pret-ty rough.  For the last several years the G1 has been four weeks of mostly uninterrupted awesomeness, but based on the available talent in 2021 I think we're in for a bit of a letdown.  Far too many valuable stars are unable to get back into Japan thanks to the Delta variant, and thus both blocks have a fair bit of filler.  Complicating things is the threat of one or more stars catching the virus during the tournament, which could derail the company's plans.  Usually one or more top seeds will hit an early slump to create suspense, and then surge near the end of the block to make the finals.  But they can't really do that this year because if say, Okada loses his first three matches and then gets COVID and has to miss multiple shows while he recovers, he's mathematically eliminated.  So the booking here has to be very straightforward and also allow for a Plan B in case one or both of the intended finalists gets sidelined.

Anyway, let's look at these blocks - it's gonna be a rough go....


Block A


Great O-Khan

The United Empire's third-best guy is making his G1 debut here.  He's apparently been improving in recent weeks, though I haven't caught any of his bouts in a while.  He's not winning this block or even coming close to winning this block, but hopefully he puts in some good showings.


Kota Ibushi

The defending back-to-back G1 winner is looking to make it a threepeat, and thus see his fourth consecutive G1 final.  After his severe case of pneumonia it was great to see Ibushi back in action at Wrestle Grand Slam.  Ibushi is always a tournament MVP, but I don't think he wins his third in a row.  He'll go deep into the tournament, maybe even make the finals, but I don't think he takes the trophy this time around.

Top Ten Things: Mastodon Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!


With the recent release of Mastodon's seventh LP Emperor of Sand (a hella good record, my review of which is HERE) I thought I'd look back on their remarkable career and pick their top ten songs.  Every album is represented here except one - sadly nothing from their 2002 debut Remission made the cut for me.  In terms of standout tracks I found that Mastodon's more recent albums put more focus on individual song composition rather than presenting the album as a whole (understandable given that three of their earlier records were concept albums), so this list may seem skewed to their later output.  But feel free to discuss in the Comments section.  Here we go.....



10. Bladecatcher


This instrumental track from Blood Mountain is frenetic and bizarre, and captures perfectly the band's offbeat take on the metal genre.  From the start-stop intro to the blast-beat "verse" to the elastic "hook" guitar riffs, this song is a great introduction for anyone who needs a demonstration of how original and strange Mastodon is.




9. The Sparrow

This somber closer to The Hunter is probably the biggest departure yet from Mastodon's sludge-metal roots, featuring delicate arpeggiated guitars and only one harmonized vocal line that repeats throughout the song.  Inspired by a quote from the recently deceased wife of the band's accountant, the lyrics consist of a single phrase - "Pursue happiness with diligence."  On a stripped-down, song-oriented album like The Hunter, this ballad makes a fitting, poignant conclusion.




8. Octopus Has No Friends


Another standout from The Hunter (an album with numerous standout songs) is this unusual, upbeat tune featuring impossibly intricate guitar riffs and very simple lyrics literally exploring Brann Dailor's observation that whenever he sees an octopus at an aquarium, it's alone in the tank.  Pretty out-there thing to write a song about, but this is a fantastic track with some of Mastodon's most impressive syncopated playing.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Top Ten Things: Wrestling Championship Belts

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I'm talking about some of my favorite championship belt designs in wrestling lore.  For decades the WWF generally seemed to have the most eye-catching belt configurations, but in recent years other companies have somewhat surged ahead in this area.  With the advent of the Universal Title it became clear WWE was endeavoring to make all their belts look the same, a la UFC.  To me that's both uncreative and bad business - if you're trying to sell loads of belt replicas wouldn't you want each one to look unique?

A great-looking belt design can add a sense of grandeur to a title, helping elevate it beyond simply being a prop, to being one of the richest prizes in the game and a symbol of excellence.  Of course a lot of that also depends on who wears the strap, but a championship belt needs to look like something for which every wrestler would be willing to risk it all.

Anyway, here are my ten favorite championship belt designs of all time....




10. WWE US Title (2003-2020)


Probably the least conventional of the designs on this list, the WWE version of the US Title uses the American flag as the center plate background, with images of the Statue of Liberty on the side plates.  While the NWA and WCW versions of the belt sported understated stars and stripes imagery, the WWE version just took it one step further, conveying literally the idea of a United States Champion.





9. WWF Intercontinental Title (1985-1998, current)


For years this was the best-designed belt in the WWF.  When the "Winged Eagle" belt was adopted in 1988, the Intercontinental Title became physically the largest belt in the company, and for a long time this was the top belt for the in-ring workhorses.  It displayed a simple, blocky design (which was borrowed by both WCW and ECW for some of their belts) with the side plates all carrying the company logo behind the image of two wrestlers grappling.  This design was so successful the company went back to it in 2011, after the rather bland Attitude Era design was discontinued.  It's kinda sad the best-looking current WWE Championship is the one recycled from the 80s.





8. TIE: ROH World Title (current, 2012-2017)





I had to cheat here and include a tie.  The current and former Ring of Honor belt designs are both incredibly ornate and gorgeous to look at.  The previous one boasted leaves climbing up the sides in incredible detail, bringing to mind Roman gladitorial games, while the new version smacks of kingly tradition, with its paisley flourishes adorning a stylized crown above the nameplate.  These are both beautiful belts.


Top Ten Things: September PPV Matches

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com, where I compile a list of ten, well, things.

Today it's the ten greatest September PPV matches of all time.  September has often been the beginning of a slump period on the WWE calendar, where the summer angles have long since peaked at SummerSlam and now the company sorta treads water until WrestleMania season starts.  But that doesn't mean there haven't been some great individual efforts.  This list is also not limited to WWE; fans of NJPW and TNA will see a little sumthin-sumthin for them as well.

So let's get to it!




HM: Randy Orton vs. John Cena - Breaking Point - 9.13.09


The PG Era was in full-swing by 2009, and that meant no more blading in a WWE ring.  While for the most part this didn't affect the product all that harshly, it did mean gimmick matches might potentially suffer, as Hell in a Cells and Elimination Chambers would now have to be blood-free zones.  That just doesn't seem right.  But at the one-time Breaking Point event (where the main event matches all had submission rules), John Cena and Randy Orton managed to circumvent these rigid new limitations and deliver a masterpiece of understated violence, in an I Quit match.  Their fight played out much like a climactic movie sequence; Orton utilized his exceptional facials and reptilian in-ring persona to make every move seem downright malicious, seemingly relishing each moment.  At one point he handcuffed Cena and proceeded to flog him mercilessly with a kendo stick, leaving sickening welts all over his torso.  Cena eventually made a comeback, applying the STF and choking Orton out with his own arm.  That this I Quit match worked so well despite being pretty tame compared to say, Mankind vs. The Rock speaks volumes of Cena's and especially Orton's ability to get across character and expression.  I'd cite this as Orton's first foray into becoming a true main event-worthy player.




10. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho - Unforgiven - 9.7.08


The best feud of 2008 was undoubtedly Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels.  After a babyface return in late 2007, Jericho quickly turned heel again in early '08, retooling his persona after the character of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men.  Jericho became soft-spoken, sullen, and sanctimonious, insisting that born-again Christian Shawn Michaels was a hypocrite who didn't follow his own beliefs.  Their feud was intended as a one-off match that spring but stretched over nearly six months.  The best match of this saga in my opinion was the non-sanctioned street fight at Unforgiven, which sprung from an incident at SummerSlam.  Jericho invited Michaels and his wife Rebecca to his talk show, and their bickering led to Jericho accidentally knocking Rebecca out with a punch.  Again, this was tame by Attitude Era standards, but in the new PG Era it was treated as a huge deal, and the two wrestlers played it to the hilt.  Their fight was brutal without being bloody, and it ended via ref stoppage when Michaels had beaten Jericho unconscious.