Wednesday, March 30, 2022

WWE WrestleMania 38 Preview & Predictions

This weekend is WrestleMania 38, and as usual WWE is doing their best to put on the least exciting lineup they can!

Don't get me wrong, there are a few bouts I'm genuinely looking forward to.  But then there are numerous bouts that belong nowhere near the biggest show of the year, and some GLARING omissions.  

Just take a look at this.

Guys who have a match at WrestleMania 38:

Johnny Knoxville
Logan Paul
Happy Corbin
Rick Boogs
Ridge Holland
Pat McAfee
Austin Theory

Guys who do not have a match at WrestleMania 38:

Finn Balor (current US Champion)
Ricochet (current Intercontinental Champion)
Damian Priest (remember how protected he was for like a year?)

Sorry WWE loyalists, there is ZERO excuse for the company's two secondary singles champions to be left off a TWO-NIGHT show while some D-list celebrities and not-ready-for-primetime players get slots.  None.  This is why no one takes those two titles seriously anymore.  What's worse, the WWE and Universal Titles are almost certainly being unified for a little while, so the company could really do with a secondary title that means something to fill that void, no?  I'm pretty sure when Vince puts these shows together he thinks "Hmmm, how can I ruin the night for at least 20% of the audience?"  Whether it's a good SummerSlam marred by that Becky-Bianca squash, a good WrestleMania marred by that Sheamus-Bryan squash (wow, that was TEN YEARS AGO), or an historic women's main event marred by being on after midnight at the end of a seven-hour show, Vince is apparently incapable of presenting a big PPV without including a heaping dose of goodwill-damaging stupidity.

Anyway, this wasn't meant to be a WWE bitch-fest, so let's predict some matches.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

94th Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

This Sunday it's the 94th Annual Academy Awards, and unlike last year's COVID edition, this one should feel a lot closer to normal.  Thank god for that, last year's show was pretty flat and forgettable, particularly given the order in which the trophies were doled out.  Let's get back on the clock, shall we?

I've only seen half of the Best Picture nominees so far, but I'm hoping to add at least a couple more before the weekend.  We'll see.

Best Picture

Don't Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

Justin: Anywho, the field this year is quite varied, particularly in the all-important Best Pic category, where we have drama, mystery, sci-fi, satire and a musical.  I like it when numerous genres are represented, one of the benefits of up to ten nominees being considered.  Of the five films I've seen (Dune, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog and West Side Story), I think my sentimental favorite is Dune, being a huge fan of both Frank Herbert's complex sci-fi universe and Denis Villeneuve's superb first-half adaptation.  As for which film was actually the best of the five, I think I'd go with Guillermo Del Toro's atmospheric, intense noir remake Nightmare Alley.  As for which film is going to win, I'd say it's between the longtime odds-on favorite and Golden Globe winning The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion's oppressive western drama, and the recent PGA winner CODA, a dramedy about growing up with deaf parents.  I could see CODA pull an upset, but I guess I'll go with the safer bet.

Pick: The Power of the Dog

Mike: I've only seen two of the nominees this year (Dune and Don't Look Up) which has been my worst year yet when it comes to movies. I'm not sure how on God's green Earth Don't Look Up nabbed a nomination but whatever. Probably because of the cast. Anyways, this category is a very interesting and close one to watch. The buzz has been tilting in favor of The Power of the Dog but CODA walked away with the SAG and PGA and that's not a bad place to be since only two movies have nabbed both and lost the Best Picture Oscar. The dark horse is Belfast but I don't see that happening. So, let's make our picks just as interesting shall we?

Pick: Coda

Monday, March 21, 2022

Oscar Film Journal: Atonement (2007)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal here at!  We're only six days away from this year's ceremony, so let's get back on track and examine some more Best Picture nominees....

Today it's the 2007 period/war/romance/metafiction drama Atonement, starring Keira Knightly, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Juno Temple, and Benedict Cumberbatch, a veritable who's who of future English stars.  Atonement was directed by Joe Wright and based on the acclaimed Ian McEwan novel, the story of how a single malicious lie can cause a ripple effect that destroys lives.  Without giving too much away, the film begins at a 1930s English country house, where the family's youngest child Briony witnesses what she thinks is an inappropriate sexual episode between her older sister Cecelia and her love interest Robbie, their housekeeper's son.  This misunderstanding leads to Briony's conclusion that Robbie is some kind of sexual deviant and she later lies to the authorities about a subsequent rape accusation, with dire consequences.  

I don't want to divulge more than that, which does make it difficult to discuss what a visually and narratively inventive film this is.  We see two events occur both from Briony's uninformed point of view and then from Cecelia and Robbie's, illustrating how easily things can be misconstrued when one doesn't have all the facts.  This allows us to empathize with Briony's naive viewpoint even though she's jumping to conclusions with neither the full information nor an understanding of complex adult relationship dynamics.  At the same time we're able to grasp just how harmful her lie is, because the true version of the events in question shows us the tender innocence of Cecelia and Robbie's budding romance.  Thus the eventual repercussions of Briony's actions are that much more heartbreaking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

RIP Scott Hall (1958-2022)

The wrestling community is reeling today from the loss of Scott Hall, taken at age 63 due to surgery complications.

Given how fast things move in the pro wrestling industry it's easy to forget that Hall was an integral part of not one, but two hugely influential 90s events, not to mention one of the unlikely success stories in getting an offbeat gimmick over.

I first became aware of Hall thanks to a 1988 issue of Wrestling Superstars magazine, which included a feature about wrestling's strongest men.  Hall was ranked in the 30s somewhere and I noted his resemblance to Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. (in fact his first ring name was "Magnum" Scott Hall).  However the first time I saw him on television was in 1989 when he was brought into the NWA as part of their young talent initiative.  He had an obviously impressive physique but a forgettable persona, and thus got lost in the shuffle, only to resurface two years later with a completely different look, as Diamond Dallas Page's new prospect, The Diamond Studd.  For the record I had no idea this was the same guy at this point.  This gimmick didn't have much success either and Hall once again never got out of the undercard.

Then one Saturday morning in 1992 the WWF showed the first of a series of vignettes designed to introduce their newest signing, Razor Ramon, a foul-tempered, gold-chain-decked Cuban heel with an obviously fake accent, shown bragging about his street toughness and bullying various vendors and restaurant workers.  My first impression as a sixteen-year-old was that this character was goofy and cartoonish and wouldn't go anywhere.  

Then I saw his in-ring debut.  

Monday, March 7, 2022

Movie Review: The Batman (2022)

Time to take a little break from talking about Oscar fare (although, who knows...) for a look at a brand-new theatrical release, one that I've been breathlessly anticipating for a good two-plus years.

Broodingly swinging into cinemas this past weekend, Matt Reeves' suspense thriller epic The Batman impressively manages to honor previous cinematic iterations of the iconic superhero while also presenting him and his universe in a fashion we've never seen before on the movie screen.  While Christopher Nolan's vaunted Dark Knight trilogy for the most part kept the character grounded in reality there were still fantastical elements to each film - the microwave emitter designed to vaporize the water supply, the citywide network of cellphones rigged up to transmit sonar imagery to Batman's goggles, etc.  But Reeves and his team have taken Nolan's realism-based approach one step further, presenting the story in grimy, believable detail in a manner akin to 1970s crime drama, via a 1990s David Fincher aesthetic.  

The Batman in this universe isn't a superhero at all, but a tortured, vengeance-obsessed vigilante prowling the streets and looking for criminals to punish.  He's inexperienced, only two years into his grand mission to redeem the dysfunctional, corrupt hellscape Gotham has become, and aside from idealistic Lieutenant Jim Gordon (a terse-lipped Jeffrey Wright), he's seen as a freak and a troublemaker by the GCPD.  

But Gordon needs Batman's help more than ever when the police stumble onto a series of grisly murders carried out by another masked "crusader" calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano in a frighteningly unhinged performance).  The killer is targeting respected public officials and leaving clues specifically for Batman to solve, hoping to catch the attention of the cowled avenger who seemingly inspired him.  The clues lead Batman deep into Gotham's dingy underworld as he investigates possible connections to crime boss Carmine Falcone (a gravel-voiced John Turturro), his deputy Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot (Colin Farrell, unrecognizable but having the decadent time of his life under all those prosthetics), and a mysterious cat burglar who moonlights as a mafia nightclub hostess (a sultry Zoe Kravitz who conveys intense chemistry with her costumed costar, in the most three-dimensional Selina Kyle cinematic characterization to date).

AEW Revolution 2022: Another Triumph

AEW does it again.  For the third straight time, All Elite Wrestling has presented an absolutely stellar PPV, full of excellent matches up and down the card, with very few exceptions.

The festivities included three pre-show matches, which for me felt like a bit much; the crowd was pretty tired at later points in the show from the extra hour of wrestling.  I'd have limited the Buy-In to the one six-man match (and probably shortened it by a few minutes).  That said, the House of Black-Death Triangle/Redbeared was a tremendous bout, one of the best pre-show matches you'll ever see.  Erick Redbeard looked great in his AEW in-ring debut, free of WWE's narrow definition of what a big man should do between the ropes.  The heels won as expected, after Malakai used the mist on Redbeared and Brody King finished him off with his variation of the Rikishi Driver.  This was a helluva six-man and I look forward to Rey Fenix coming back for the rematch.  ***3/4

The PPV proper kicked off with Chris Jericho vs. Eddie Kingston, in a 14-minute war that would've been right at home on a G1 Climax show.  These two stiffed the hell out of each other in an AEW career highlight for both of them.  Jericho flipped off the crowd early to solidify himself as the heel in this story.  After a brutal-looking half-nelson suplex from Kingston, they chopped each other red multiple times during the match.  Both guys used eye pokes, but Jericho took over with a suplex off the apron to the floor.  The finishing sequence saw Jericho hit two Codebreakers, but Kingston fought through and hit two spinning back fists, followed by his Stretch Plum submission, forcing Jericho to tap out.  This was a great moment for Kingston, finally winning a high-profile match over the former AEW Champion.  Post-match Kingston offered a handshake but Jericho refused and walked out, reneging on his promise to acknowledge Kingston as the better man if he lost.  Really strong opening match that exceeded my expectations.  ****

The first true Match of the Night contender was next as Jungle Boy & Luchasaurus defended against The Young Bucks and reDRagon, in exactly the kind of match you'd expect from these three.  This was 19 minutes of non-stop tag team beauty.  It would be impossible for me to recap it all, but all three teams looked great.  Jungle Boy kept right up with the four tag veterans, while Luchasaurus got several big moments where he'd come in and clean house with power moves and then defy his size with aerial tactics.  Midway through the match the alliance between the Bucks and reDRagon broke down as these things tend to do, and each team stymied the other's chances for victory.  After a series of nearfalls, Jurassic Express hit their tandem powerbomb finisher on Matt Jackson to retain the titles.  Super fun tag title match that furthered the Bucks-Dragon dissolution while making the babyface champs look great.  ****1/4

Friday, March 4, 2022

Oscar Film Journal: West Side Story (2021)

Welcome to another Oscar Film Journal entry, here at!  Time for the second consecutive Steven Spielberg movie review....

Today I'm talking about the 2021 remake of the legendary classic West Side Story, a notion that was admittedly a hard sell for me, being such a fan of the 1961 version.  For devotees of the original film, this new version is more easily enjoyed if you think of it like an updated stage revival of a classic, rather than a remake designed to replace the old one.  I found myself thinking of the original film often, particularly during my favorite musical numbers and the more emotional scenes, comparing these acting and choreography choices to those.  Thus my enjoyment of this movie was tempered - like I said, redoing such a seminal piece of filmmaking is a tough sell. 

First let's look at the positives.  Set in the late 1950s with a song order closer to the Broadway show, this movie hits some new thematic notes in its frankness about racial tensions and the immigrant experience.  Where the 1961 version had to keep things a bit sanitized and appropriate for all ages, this script was afforded the chance to explore these themes with a bit more honesty, through a 2021 lens.  For example the events of the story take place against the backdrop of a major New York City gentrification project, as the rough Irish, Italian and Puerto Rican neighborhoods over which these gangs are fighting are being torn down to make room for Lincoln Center and other new developments.  The relationship between Bernardo and Anita is also given a feminist twist as he pressures her to move back to Puerto Rico with him and have a bunch of kids, while she wants to stay in New York City and launch a tailoring business; its this exchange that leads into the famous "America" number, taking place in the streets instead of on a rooftop.  I found it refreshing to see these new twists on the familiar story, and especially to know that every Hispanic character in the film was actually played by someone of Hispanic heritage.  No brown-face needed here, thank Christ.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

AEW Revolution 2022 Preview & Predictions

Holy jeez, what a lineup AEW's put together for this weekend.  For the third time in a row the young wrestling promotion has the chance to deliver their best show to date; Revolution 2022 boasts arguably their strongest-ever on-paper card, with three top matches all-but guaranteed to exceed ****, plus a blazing tag team battle, a heated Women's Title match, and the chance for some big surprises.

First off, Tony Khan now owns Ring of Honor.  Wow.  I'm not sure what the long-term plan is, whether they'll try to keep ROH as a separate promotion (an historically difficult thing to pull off - just ask WWE or Jim Crockett Promotions), or whether they bake ROH's roster into AEW's (maybe even more difficult considering how little TV time there is for AEW's existing roster), or if they'll create a new AEW presents Ring of Honor show that involves a lot of crossover.  Regardless, the vast ROH tape library is in great hands and AEW has the foundation for a stunning streaming service, hopefully on HBO Max.  Being a wrestling fan in the early 2020s just keeps getting more interesting....

Now for the PPV: I don't want to jinx anything, but it's very possible we could see the second-consecutive 10/10 PPV from these guys, a feat I don't think any other wrestling company has ever achieved.  Of the nine matches I could see at least five of them hitting four-star territory, and a few of the others could conceivably get there as well.  Let's dive in, shall we?

TBS Championship: Jade Cargill vs. Tay Conti

Alright, one match I don't see earning a ton of accolades is the TBS Title match.  Yes Jade Cargill has the look and aura of a superstar, but her in-ring still needs a lot of work.  She's improving though, and her last couple TV matches have been decent.  Tay Conti is a solid worker who can hopefully guide Cargill through a strong title defense.  There's no suspense about the result, Jade is retaining here, but I wonder who the company has in store to eventually dethrone the inaugural champ.

Pick: Jade retains

Tornado Trios Match: Andrade El ├Źdolo, Matt Hardy & Isiah Kassidy vs. Sammy Guevara, Sting and Darby Allin

I'd probably have put Sammy vs. Andrade for the title on this show and moved the six-man to a free TV spot, but this should be fun regardless.  The crowd is always excited for Sting and Darby, Sammy always does something noteworthy in his matches, and Andrade is a helluva worker.  Matt Hardy has been teasing the impending debut of his brother for weeks now, so I wonder if that happens here.  I'd be lying if I said I'm super excited about Jeff Hardy joining the company.  Yes he's a major star, but he's been a liability at numerous points throughout his career and I'm not sure how much upside he has at 44.  He'd fit right in with Darby and Sting I suppose - three generations of brooding facepainted characters.  Anyway I think the good guys win here.

Pick: Sammy, Darby and Sting

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Oscar Film Journal: Munich (2005)

Welcome to the Oscar Film Journal, here at!  We're only a few weeks away from this year's ceremony....

Today's subject is another film I'm ashamed to admit I just now got around to watching.  There's a pair of years in the mid-aughts where the one Best Pic nominee I hadn't seen up until recently was directed by one of my all-time favorites.  In the case of 2004 it was Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, and for 2005 it was Steven Spielberg's powerful, gripping political thriller Munich, about a team of Mossad agents tasked by the Israeli government with assassinating a slew of Palestinian targets, in retaliation for the terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympics.  Led by Avner Kaufman (in a pretty spellbinding performance by Eric Bana), the team spends hundreds of thousands of US dollars searching the entire European continent for the targets and picks them off one by one.  

Despite wanting to maintain plausible deniability for the assassinations, the Israeli government, via Kaufman's handler Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) insists that the team use bombs as their primary weapon, in order to make as high-profile a statement as possible.  The goal is to make examples of these targets and deter future terrorist attacks, but of course as the story progresses and the team really begins to consider the consequences of this mission, the unavoidable question arises, "But what happens when they retaliate against our retaliation?"