Thursday, February 25, 2021

NJPW Castle Attack Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of NJPW predictions, here at Enuffa.com!


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 Enuffa.com!


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 Enuffa.com.  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 Enuffa.com, 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 Enuffa.com!  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 Enuffa.com!


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 Enuffa.com, 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 Enuffa.com!

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 Enuffa.com 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 Enuffa.com, 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 Enuffa.com!


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 Enuffa.com 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.



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: House of Dracula (1945)

Welcome to another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at Enuffa.com, where I cut open a piece of Hollywood schlock and see if I can figure out what went wrong, or what they were thinking, or what the point of the movie was, or what have you.  Today's subject is the final film in Universal's Frankenstein series (before Abbott & Costello got involved that is), House of Dracula!


Released in 1945, House of Dracula was the third film in the series billed as a monster crossover.  After the success of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and the "blow your wad" approach to House of Frankenstein, the studio assembled all its monsters for one last romp, this time in a story focused primarily on Dracula.    

This oddly crafted tale concerns Drac inexplicably seeking a cure for his vampirism and turning to unorthodox scientist Dr. Edelmann, who believes he can cure the Count with a series of blood transfusions.  On the side, Drac is also making romantic overtures to one of Edelmann's assistants Milizia, who he apparently knew years ago.  Separately Lawrence Talbot, better known as The Wolf Man, also seeks Edelmann's help to cure his lycanthropy, which Edelmann believes he can cure by reducing swelling in Talbot's brain (Edelmann theorizes that it's not the moon that causes the transformations, but rather Talbot's *belief* that the moon causes them).  Separately still, Edelmann promises his other assistant Nina that he can cure her hunchback with spores from a plant he's discovered.  And further separately Edelmann stumbles onto Frankenstein's monster, thought dead after sinking into quicksand in the last movie, and contemplates reviving him to full power (like every scientist who comes across this mute motherfucker).

Lotta threads happening in this movie, all of them involving monsters and freaks, and all of them tied to Edelmann and his research.  I had a lot of issues with this film, which I'll get to in a bit, but first let's talk about the positives....

Top Ten Things: Film Trilogies

Welcome to yet another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com where I blather on about ten what-have-yous and why I like them.  Today we're back on the topic of movies!

Specifically I'm talking about film trilogies.  The trilogy is one of the most popular narrative forms for the film medium; there's a kind of magic to the sequence of Beginning, Middle and End, which I'm guessing stems from the traditional three-act play structure.  Act 1 sets up the characters, settings and conflicts, Act 2 expands on them and usually puts the protagonists in some kind of danger, and Act 3 resolves everything and hopefully brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.  Understandably the third part of a film trilogy is most often the toughest one to nail.  How do you fully resolve a three-part story arc in a way that ties up all the loose ends and doesn't let down your audience?

For the purposes of this article I've included a couple film series that are no longer trilogies, due to the powers involved opting to make an ill-advised fourth installment.  But in both cases the franchises stood as trilogies for roughly twenty years, having sufficiently wrapped up the story.  Thus I'm including them.

Let's get to it.... 

 


HM: Back to the Future


One of the most beloved film franchises of the 80s, this time travel action-comedy trilogy is a childhood favorite of, well, just about everyone who grew up in those days.  1985 high school student Marty McFly unwittingly gets transported to 1955 when his eccentric friend, local middle-aged scientist Dr. Emmett Brown invents a time machine car, and after running into his future parents as teenagers, ends up endangering his own existence.  Marty must act as matchmaker to ensure George and Lorraine fall in love, while also working with Dr. Brown's younger self to get back to 1985.  With perfect casting and a brilliantly devised plot, this warmhearted sci-fi adventure was a box office sensation and remains one of the all-time great popcorn movies.  But the story doesn't end there.  In the 1989 sequel Dr. Brown returns to 1985 after a jaunt into the early 21st century to enlist Marty's help in preventing his own children from catastrophic legal woes, and Marty accidentally alters the past when a sports almanac he purchases finds its way into Biff Tannen's hands and he steals the time machine.  The rest of the film involves our heroes returning to 1955 to undo the timeline damage Biff has done, but the time machine is struck by lightning with Doc in it, transporting him to the old west.  The second film is certainly very ambitious and fun to unravel, but falls short of its predecessor, with a few too many plot holes and joke retreads.  The final installment on the other hand played it safe by being essentially a western-infused version of the first film.  Marty travels back to 1885 upon learning that Doc Brown was murdered by an outlaw one week after arriving there, and the two must then devise a plan to get the time machine running so they can return to their rightful era.  The greatness of this trilogy is mostly due to the first film, but both sequels are a ton of fun and help round out the story of an adventurous teenager and a wild-eyed scientist.





10. The Dollars Trilogy


Clint Eastwood became a star and later a cultural icon thanks to the unexpected success of Sergio Leone's triumvirate of unconventional Western films featuring a taciturn, weathered anti-hero with a marksman's aim.  Though A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly weren't intended to be packaged this way, the films' American distributor United Artists marketed them as a trilogy and helped make them a worldwide phenomenon.  Leone's genius in revitalizing the Western can't be overstated; he took what had by the 1960s become an antiquated genre depicting white-hat good guys vs. black-hat bad guys, and added grit, graphic violence, and moral ambiguity, transforming the Western into a much more credible, immersive experience.  These three films center around Eastwood's "Man With No Name" and can be interpreted as a reverse trilogy; the third film takes place during the Civil War, the second in 1872, and the first in 1873.  Eastwood's character goes by different nicknames in each film but in all three he sports his iconic poncho and battered brown hat.  Each film is a definitive Spaghetti Western, but as a three-part unit they're iconic.





9. Star Wars Sequel Trilogy


Yup, I'm gonna take some flak for this and I don't care.  The Star Wars sequel trilogy is one of my favorites.  Where George Lucas's prequels for me failed on virtually every level to recapture the magic of the originals, JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy et al understood what made Lucas's original vision so special, so imaginative, and so mesmerizing.  Yes, the three films could've fit together more tightly had the filmmakers planned out an arc more thoroughly.  Yes, the trilogy is sometimes too ambitious for its own good, attempting to cram in too many story beats and MacGuffins.  But it also introduced some of the most compelling characters in the entire saga - the plucky scavenger destined for great things, terrified of her own innate gifts; the heir to Darth Vader, so consumed with his own fanboyishness and entitlement he loses himself to the Dark Side; the ex-Stormtrooper who becomes a reluctant hero; the hotshot ace pilot who learns there's more to being a leader than daredevil heroics.  Not to mention we got to revisit our old favorite characters.  Han went back to smuggling after his son went rogue and his marriage to Leia dissolved.  Leia resumed her role as a respected political leader as the First Order sprang up.  Luke, disillusioned and broken by his failure as Ben Solo's teacher, cut himself off from the Force and went into hiding, only finding his way again after a new student reached out to him.  These films are full of relatable characters and themes, white-knuckle space battles, emotionally charged lightsaber duels, stunning visuals, and a clear good vs. evil conflict.  In other words, they're everything a Star Wars trilogy should be.





8. Captain America


Okay, so this trilogy is actually part of a larger film series, but the three films focusing on Steve Rogers are tied so closely together as a standalone arc, not to mention they unexpectedly served as the strongest part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that I had to put them on this list.  If you had told me in 2011 that Marvel would've knocked it out of the park so completely with the Captain America character to the point that he's kinda the best part of The Avengers, I'd have knocked you down and pissed on your shoes.  The first standalone Cap film, set in the 1940s, chronicles Steve Rogers' rise from a skinny, sickly Brooklyn kid to the very first super-soldier who singlehandedly prevented the sinister Hydra organization from destroying the world.  The period setting and quaint, heroic tone reminded me a bit of the Indiana Jones films, and served as a very enjoyable introduction to the Captain America character.  But it was the Russo Brothers-helmed sequel The Winter Soldier that really captured the imagination and made Rogers the most compelling Avenger.  The James Bond-esque second film sees Rogers fending off a Hydra infiltration of SHIELD, involving three super-helicarriers capable of spying on the entire world, while also coming to grips with his best friend Bucky Barnes (thought dead in the first movie) having been brainwashed and turned into a ruthless assassin.  This taut, spellbinding action thriller pushed the boundaries of violence in the MCU but also presented Rogers as an eminently relatable, straightlaced hero (the kind Superman SHOULD have been).  To date this film is the apex of the Marvel series in my opinion.  The third Cap film is no slouch either however.  With the largest scope of any standalone Marvel film, Civil War deals with the aftermath of The Winter Soldier but also both Avengers films, where the US government has decided our superheroes need to be reined in to preserve public safety.  A guilt-ridden Tony Stark agrees, but Steve Rogers balks at the idea, and this conflict builds to a massive battle between the fractured Avengers squad.  Given that the MCU continued after Civil War, the larger story is not over, but this third film served as a thrilling, climactic conclusion to the series within a series.  As of now there are no plans for a fourth Cap film, but the Captain America trilogy has to be considered one of Marvel's best film properties.





7. Planet of the Apes Prequels


The Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy is astonishing to me for multiple reasons.  First, when the series was announced I groaned, being fully convinced this was nothing but an artistically bankrupt money grab.  But as it turned out, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its two sequels were thoughtful, unusually quiet, character-driven pieces rife with social commentary, and not the bombastic CGI orgies I feared they would be.  Second, the films restored my faith in CG as an effective means of telling a powerful story, via the revelatory central motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis as the series' protagonist Caesar.  Serkis is a force of nature in this role, delivering nuance, pathos and sentiment previously unheard of in a computer-generated character.  Either the Motion Picture Academy needs to start recognizing motion-capture as real acting or they need to introduce it as a new category.  Third, this series bucked an almost universal trend of the third part of a trilogy being unequivocally the weakest entry.  War for the Planet of the Apes is more profound, more emotive, and more engaging than either of its predecessors (no small feat considering what strong films Rise and Dawn are), and ended this cinematic trifecta on a startlingly high note.  The POTA prequels were a wonderful surprise in an industry full of hi-tech predictability.

For a closer look at all three films, click HERE, HERE and HERE.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Parents' Night In #53: Austin Powers - The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

GROOVY BABY, YEAAAHH!  Get ready to board the spiraly time machine and travel back to the swingin' 60s as Justin & Kelly watch the second Austin Powers movie!  Starring Mike Myers, Mike Myers, Mike Myers, and Heather Graham, The Spy Who Shagged Me is our favorite of the three Powers films, where the filmmakers went full-on screwball comedy.  Joining Austin Powers and his nemesis Dr. Evil are Mike Myers' third character Fat Bastard, Austin's new love interest and fellow spy Felicity Shagwell, and of course the diminutive Mini-Me, played by the late Verne Troyer.  Austin Powers 2 is arguably the most quotable of the three films and for us captures the series' hallmarks perfectly.  We'll discuss the film, the fashion of both the 60s and the 90s, the genius of Mike Myers and his characters, and Kelly's confusing film rating system (It gets weird).

 

So fasten up those love beads and join us for some fun!
Snippet of "Soul Bossa Nova," copyright Quincy Jones, 1960
Parody lyrics:

It's PNI
It's PNI
Parents' Night In
Or PNI

That's what we call it
Because it's shorter
We're busy people
Here at PNI

Justin and Kelly
Making you laugh
Like and subscribe


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Movie Review: The Little Things (2021)

The Little Things, Warner Brothers' latest film to hit both cinemas and HBO Max, is a 90s-style crime thriller set in the 90s.  Boasting an Academy Award-winning cast, the John Lee Hancock-helmed neo-noir stars Denzel Washington as an aging former detective now working as a small-town deputy, still obsessing over an unsolved case from his previous career.  Rami Malek plays a young hotshot police detective who welcomes Denzel's experience and savvy, and the two sleuths work tirelessly to connect a current serial murder case to the past one.  And then there's Jared Leto as the slimy, offputting prime suspect in the case, who somehow always seems one step ahead of the police.


As I mentioned, this film is set in the early 90s and feels like the type of thriller made during that era, a police procedural with flawed protagonists, tough moral choices, an oddly charismatic villain, etc.  After watching the film I learned it was in fact written in 1993, and Hancock offered it to Steven Spielberg to direct.  Spielberg found it too dark, and it passed through the hands of Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty and Danny DeVito before being shelved.  A quarter-century later Hancock decided to direct it himself, and he does an admirable job of lending the proper dread-laced atmosphere and keeping the audience guessing whether or not the detectives are on the right track.  

The performances are first-rate as expected; with three Oscars between the three leads it's hard to go wrong.  Denzel is a haunted, disillusioned man who can't let go of the case that got away.  Malek is overbearing and arrogant at first, and then begins to realize he can learn a thing or two from his new mentor, while riding a dangerous ethical line in trying to crack the case.  Leto is somewhere between his gravel-voiced turn in Blade Runner 2049 and Kevin Spacey's supercreep in Se7en, only somewhat recognizable under a bit of prosthetics and dark contact lenses.  

Speaking of Se7en, that's where my gripes are with this film.  The original draft of the script may have predated David Fincher's oppressively bleak masterpiece, but this incarnation echoes that film a bit too much, along with Fincher's other crime procedural, Zodiac.  The aging African-American cop paired with the enthusiastic, blunt-talking young family man.  The degenerate weirdo who knows too much about the case and seems too eager to work with the police, the long car ride to who-knows-where, the struggle to tie evidence to the obvious suspect.  It's all very familiar territory and handled with less style and gravitas than Fincher.  While this movie kept my interest it also kept reminding me of other, superior films.

Still, the performances alone are worth giving this film a look.  It doesn't cover any ground we haven't seen before, but The Little Things is a capable, if underwhelming, thriller.

I give it **1/2 out of ****.


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