Friday, November 25, 2022

WWE Survivor Series: WarGames Preview & Predictions

This weekend it's WWE Survivor Series: WarGames edition!  Seems like an odd mashup of the main roster and NXT November shows, but for the first time in a few years I'm actively curious to see what the company does with what used to be my favorite gimmick PPV.

I gotta say, I think I'd be more excited if these two big matches were just old-fashioned Survivor Series elimination bouts.  WarGames is a cool concept but it's very one-dimensional and they kinda all go the same way.  One of the inherent flaws in Dusty Rhodes's brainchild is the bit where one team has a one-man advantage - such a format necessitates that the heels win the coin toss or the qualifying match every single time, in order to create heat and drama (When WWE has tried to subvert this trope it never works).  WWE could rectify this by adding one person from each team simultaneously throughout the match, to create more possibilities for how the match progresses.  But what do I know?  Anyway, both of these WarGames matches should be quite good given the talent involved, plus we have a huge singles rematch five years in the making, with Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles battling for Bullet Club leader supremacy (Kenny would smoke 'em both, incidentally).

But let's look at the lineup....

Smackdown Women's Championship: Ronda Rousey vs. Shotzi

Not sure why Shotzi is the challenger here, as she has a snowball's chance in Orlando of winning.  This will likely be short and one-sided.

Pick: Ronda retains

US Championship: Seth Rollins vs. Bobby Lashley vs. Austin Theory

Heh, remember when Theory was supposed to be the next coming of John Cena?  Good times.  Then they had him cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase for a title he'd already held.  And he came up short.  Pure dipshittery on ice.  It's possible he wins it here anyway, but man am I glad he's no longer being pushed like the next "it" guy.  I really just don't see anything special with him, aside from his being good looking.  I don't think Lashley wins the title here because he's likely heading for a rematch with Brock, so it's either Seth retaining or Austin winning the belt back.  Eh, I'll go with Seth.

Pick: Seth retains

Monday, November 21, 2022

AEW Full Gear 2022 Review: The MJF Era Begins

The MJF Era has officially begun, kids!  Everyone's favorite wrestling anti-hero finally fulfilled his destiny on Saturday, cheating as always to unseat Jon Moxley as the new AEW Champion.  It was a very fine main event to cap off a pretty great but long PPV.  

I've read a lot of criticisms of Full Gear 2022 saying it felt too long and wasn't strong enough all the way through to justify its four-hour (plus pre-show) running time.  I guess I'd agree with that to an extent, but I'll bet if you rearranged the match order and laid it out like a NJPW show, with the lesser, shorter bouts at the beginning, it would've felt shorter.  This is one issue I've had with North American PPV events for a while now.  When you sprinkle the big matches throughout the show instead of getting the smaller ones out of the way first, it makes the show feel longer.  The only match I could see being cut from this lineup was the Jade Cargill one, which I still thought was decent.  Everything else was solid to great, including the three Zero Hour bouts.  My biggest gripe is that the three best matches were in the first half, and the middle of the show suffered from not being able to clear that bar.  Fortunately the last three matches all delivered.

The PPV proper kicked off with Jungle Boy Jack Perry (who is apparently transitioning away from his Tarzan moniker) against Luchasaurus in the big cage match.  This was a helluva strong opener, with Perry using his superior agility early on to frustrate the big man but eventually bleeding after meeting the steel with his forehead.  Luchasaurus dominated the middle portion of the match and this often reminded me of Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel and later Shawn vs. Undertaker in the Cell.  Christian Cage picked the referee's pocket to get the keys to the cage and managed to unlock the door before being ejected.  This allowed Luchasaurus to take the fight outside, catapulting Perry into the cage and grabbing a table and some chairs to bring back in.  Perry was chokeslammed through a chair, but mounted a comeback and landed a scary-looking Shawn Michaels-esque elbowsmash off the top of the cage through the table.  One Snaretrap later, Luchasaurus tapped out, giving Jungle Boy the biggest win of his young career.  Excellent cage match.  ****1/4

Friday, November 18, 2022

AEW Full Gear 2022 Preview & Predictions

Fasten your seatbelts, AEW faithful, because this Saturday night is Full Gear!

Once again AEW presents a loaded PPV lineup, at a time when the company desperately needs to generate some positive buzz again.  It will be a big test, as it's the first PPV since the CM Punk debacle, moreover the first show of any kind since then with Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks back in the fold, and hopefully the big coronation of the company's breakout homegrown star(s).  As of right now they're closing in on another million-dollar live gate, and if they hit that number and also manage a good 130,000 PPV buys (which would put it in the same ballpark as All Out) one has to consider Full Gear a win.

On paper this looks like one of their more stacked PPVs, with nearly all of their available star power on hand and a slew of potential ****+ bouts.  Let's take a look....

Zero Hour: Brian Cage vs. Ricky Starks or Lance Archer

Obviously Ricky Starks will advance to the semifinals (and likely the finals) of this year's Eliminator tournament.  His medical issue was a blessing in disguise for this show, as it forced the company to push the tournament final back to next Wednesday, thus reducing the PPV lineup to ten matches.  That should probably be the rule going forward with these contender tourneys unless they boast the necessary star power.  Starks and Ethan Page are potentially both future main event guys, but they aren't there yet.  Anyway, Starks will get past former Team Taz stablemate Brian Cage on his way to Dynamite's showdown with Page.

Pick: Ricky Starks

Sting & Darby Allin vs. Jay Lethal & Jeff Jarrett

Look, I get that Jarrett probably has a lot of experience and wisdom to offer the company in an offscreen role, but I just can't see the benefit of featuring him on television.  He's been doing the same act since 1998 and it was never a draw even back then.  That said, this should be fine if it's kept in the ten-minute range.  Darby and Jay will provide the fast-paced action, Sting will provide the big pops, and Jarrett will hopefully provide the warm body to pin at the end.

Pick: Sting & Darby

Monday, November 7, 2022

Top Ten Things: Weird Al Yankovic Albums, RANKED

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about a musical legend.  And a comedy legend.  And a certified genius (Seriously, he skipped second grade and was senior year valedictorian at sixteen).

Weird Al Yankovic burst into the American lexicon in 1984 with an off-beat parody of a Michael Jackson hit, and has somehow managed to build a hugely successful thirty-plus-year career lampooning our most cherished pop music stars.  As an eight-year-old Michael Jackson fanatic I was initially offended that anyone would parody one of his songs, but Al won me over when I first saw the video for "Eat It."  Here was a dorky, bespectacled nerd mimicking all of Jackson's dance moves (badly I might add) and conjuring comedy from already-tired rock video imagery.  By age twelve I'd bought all of Al's records, and I've been a huge fan ever since.  In 2000 I got to see Al from the front row, and he even yelled at me for not singing along to "Dare to Be Stupid."  It was indeed a privilege.  Twenty-two years later I took my son to see his Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, a proud inter-generational moment. 

Despite originating as a zany novelty act on comedy radio, Weird Al's career has endured a staggering four decades.  For many artists, being parodied by Al is a badge of honor, a sign that they've truly "made it."  Al is like a pop culture mirror, making light of our society's latest fads and popular music heroes.  While he seems to be all done putting out full albums, he still pops up every so often with a new video to remind us he's still out there, ready to either lampoon or pay homage to whatever's grabbing headlines.

Here now Weird Al Yankovic's albums, ranked....

14. Polka Party!

It should come as no surprise that the album which nearly derailed Al's career ranks last.  Without the benefit of a strong single to help move sales ("Livin' With a Hernia" is a fun James Brown parody but didn't exactly light up the charts the way "Eat It" or "Like a Surgeon" did), Polka Party! would need to overachieve as a cohesive album.  Sadly it did not; the album's parodies tackled mostly less-than-memorable material, while its originals were largely pretty pedestrian.  The Talking Heads-inspired "Dog Eat Dog" and the Phil Spector-style "Christmas at Ground Zero" serve as a pair of standouts, but beyond those, Polka Party! lacks a strong catalogue of original tunes to make up for the rather uninspired slate of parodies.  Thankfully Al's career would resurge in a big way two years later with the release of Even Worse.

Key Tracks: Livin' With a Hernia, Dog Eat Dog, Christmas at Ground Zero

13. Alapalooza

Cashing in on both the mammoth success of Jurassic Park and the alternative music tour Lollapalooza, Al's 8th album dropped in 1993 and didn't quite make the splash its predecessor Off the Deep End did.  It probably didn't help that the lead single was a parody of an old 1960s tune rather than a hot 1993 alternative chart-topper (though Al's "Jurassic Park" song is pretty great).  Al did send up the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge," with mixed results (RHCP bassist Flea expressed disappointment in Al's choice of The Flintstones as the song's inspiration), and Aerosmith's "Livin' on the Edge," returning to the subject of food, in this case the kind that's been in the fridge too long.  The original songs on this album were a letdown for me, aside from the excellent REM-esque "Frank's 2000" TV."  To my mind "Traffic Jam," "Waffle King" and "She Never Told Me She Was a Mine" sounded like outtakes from previous albums.  But Alapalooza does finish strong with "Bohemian Polka," a sped-up, accordion-driven version of Queen's megahit "Bohemian Rhapsody."  Overall though, Alapalooza is one of his weakest efforts, and the worst of his 1990s output.

Key Tracks: Jurassic Park, Frank's 2000" TV, Bohemian Polka

12. Straight Outta Lynwood

Notable for boasting Al's highest-charting single "White & Nerdy" (a parody of "Ridin" by Chamillionaire), Al's 12th album was from a commercial standpoint another career highlight.  Other parodies include "Canadian Idiot," based of course on Green Day's "American Idiot," "Confessions Part III," a sendup of Usher's "Confessions Part II," and the epic "Trapped in the Drive Thru" based on R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet."  The originals on this album are quite varied, with "Pancreas" parodying the style of The Beach Boys, "I'll Sue Ya" capturing the sound of Rage Against the Machine, and probably the strongest original "Don't Download This Song" going after 1980s all-star charity tunes like "We Are the World."  Overall SOL is ambitious and sonically diverse, but not all of it landed for me.  Still it was satisfying to see Al achieve such mainstream success once again.

Key Tracks: White & Nerdy, Pancreas, Don't Download This Song

11. Bad Hair Day

Falling just shy of the top ten is Al's 1996 return to prominence after the critical and commercial disappointment of Alapalooza.  The ninth album in Al's catalog surged to double-platinum status largely on the back of "Amish Paradise," a parody of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise."  Coolio infamously disapproved of Al using his song as comedy fodder and publicly objected, though Al did get written permission from Coolio's management to use the song.  This was ironic considering the Coolio tune is itself a reworking of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise."  Aside from the hit single, Bad Hair Day boasts an excellent parody of Presidents of the USA's "Lump," about Forrest Gump, some standout originals such as "Everything You Know is Wrong" the a cappella "Since You've Been Gone," and "The Night Santa Went Crazy," and maybe his best-ever polka medley, "The Alternative Polka," which makes use of numerous mid-90s grunge and alternative hits.  Bad Hair Day is a bit uneven but contains enough standout tunes to almost make the vaunted top ten.

Key Tracks: Amish Paradise, The Alternative Polka, Gump

10. UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff

The soundtrack to Al's 1989 summer flop sadly didn't fare much better than its film counterpart, but it did contain some fun parodies and solid originals, plus a few snippets of the film itself.  Al's spoof of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," which is essentially the Beverly Hillbillies theme set to different music, was accompanied by an excellent sendup of the Straits video.  Other highlights were "Spam," based on REM's "Stand," and two hilarious originals, "Generic Blues," which literally just recycles all the woe-is-me blues lyrical tropes, and folk-rock epic "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota," which recounts in great detail a trip to go see the World's Largest Twine Ball (Yes, such a thing actually exists).  Released at a time when a) the summer movie season was quite cluttered (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Star Trek V, and Lethal Weapon 2), and b) Weird Al's record sales were somewhat contingent on including a Michael Jackson parody, this album and film kinda got lost in the shuffle (though UHF has since become a cult classic).  But it's not too shabby at all and shows evidence of Al's growth as a musician.

Key Tracks: Generic Blues, Spam, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

9. Dare to Be Stupid

Al's third album, and the first musical comedy album to see a CD release, showed that Al was growing beyond his reputation as "that funny guy who does the Michael Jackson parody."  With songs like "Like a Surgeon," "I Want a New Duck," and the superb "Yoda" (based on The Kinks' "Lola"), Al was attempting to last beyond the fifteen-minute lifespan most gave him.  But it's in the original songs where this album really achieves.  Style parodies like the hilariously descriptive doo-wop ballad "One More Minute" and the Devo-inspired title track demonstrated Al's gift for recreating different genres (Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh once said that "Dare to Be Stupid" captured the exact sound he himself had been trying to create).

Key Tracks: Dare to Be Stupid, One More Minute, Yoda