Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XV

1999: Vince Russo leaves a turd in the WrestleMania bowl....

First Union Center - 3/28/99

'Mania 15 holds the distinction, at least according to me, of being the most disappointing WrestleMania in history.  Never before or since has the WWF/E possessed all the tools, talent, and momentum to put on an unforgettable PPV only to completely squander it in almost every possible way.

First the good (there isn't much): The main event of The Rock defending the WWF Title against Steve Austin is a fine match.  Full of crazy brawling and guest referee shenanigans, it captured perfectly the peak of the Vince Russo era, for better or worse.  Rock and Austin would be hard-pressed to have a bad match, so this was just fine (though they would go on to top this match on PPV not once, not twice, but thrice).  It felt more like a good RAW match but given how bad the rest of this PPV is, I'll take it.

This match is the only reason to watch 'Mania 15.

The only other decent matches on this show are Shane McMahon vs. X-Pac, which far exceeded my low expectations (though it really should've been Test in Shane's spot), the Owen/Jarrett vs. Test/D-Lo Tag Title match (which was good but way too short), and the 4-way I-C Title match of the Road Dogg vs. Ken Shamrock vs. Goldust vs. Val Venis.  Now originally Billy Gunn was supposed to be the I-C Champion going in, and Road Dogg was the Hardcore Champ, but Vince Russo decided to swerve everyone and have them switch places, which made no sense and hurt the opening Hardcore Title match.

The other good thing to come out of this show was the Triple H/Chyna double heel turn angle.  During Hunter's match with Kane, heel Chyna turned on the Big Red Monster to reunite with Hunter.  Then during X-Pac's match, they both turned heel on Mr. Waltman, joining the Corporation.  It bordered on convoluted (as did pretty much every angle of the time), but it was a nice double-twist.
The rest of the show consisted of matches that were either too short (Mankind vs. Big Show), forgettable (Sable vs. Tori), or just boring (Undertaker vs. Big Bossman in the worst Hell in a Cell match of all time).

Monday, February 27, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XIV

WrestleMania raids my hometown to kick off the Austin Era....

Fleet Center - 3/29/98

It's fitting that 'Mania 14 took place on the anniversary of 'Mania 3.  The 14th edition was to the late 90s WWF as the 3rd was to the late 80s.  In both cases a major star (with serious back problems) seemingly nearing the end of his career passed the torch to the man of the hour, and a major boom period followed.

In the main event, Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title, which kicked off possibly the most successful financial run any single wrestler has ever enjoyed.  The match itself, while not a five-star classic, was a very strong main event, and Shawn's performance is nothing short of a miracle given how badly he was hurting at the time.  This would be his final match for over four years.  On the outside of the ring was celebrity guest Mike Tyson, whose presence sparked a media frenzy which garnered a ton of mainstream hype for the event.  This, my friends, is how you utilize a celebrity guest star in wrestling.

The semi-main event slot went to the Undertaker and his onscreen brother Kane.  The buildup for this match lasted about nine months, from the original announcement that Taker had a brother.  When Kane finally debuted, the company did an excellent job of establishing him as an unstoppable monster, and held off giving away too much physical interaction between him and Taker.  By the time this match finally took place it truly felt like Taker would be facing his ultimate adversary, and the match didn't disappoint. This was arguably Taker's best 'Mania match to date and was also a career-making match for Kane.

It's like King Kong vs. Godzilla!  OH MY GAHD!!!

Friday, February 24, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 13

A "lost smile" threw a wrench into the WWF's plans for WrestleMania 13, but they managed to make some lemonade.  Mixed metaphors.....

Rosemont Horizon - 3/23/97 

1997 was the WWF's ratings nadir during the Monday Night War with WCW.  They were right in the middle of an 82-week trouncing, and their PPV buyrates reflected that - 'Mania 13 did an abysmal .72 I believe.

But early '97 was also the very beginning of the Attitude era, before the WWF even fully acknowledged that the business was radically changing.  Snow-white babyface characters were no longer cool to cheer for; instead it was a foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, redneck bully named Steve Austin who captured the fans' imagination and became their hero.  The company was about to switch gears in a major way.

The WWF's original plan for WrestleMania 13's centerpiece was a rematch of Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels from the previous year.  Shawn apparently suffered a knee injury just 6 weeks before the big show (which may or may not have faked, to avoid doing the job for Bret) and announced that he'd be taking time off indefinitely, thus relinquishing the WWF Title.  This left the company scrambling for a new main event to build the show around. 

Sucky main event, but this was a nice moment

Two title changes later, and the belt was back around the waist of Sycho Sid, who it was announced would be defending against The Undertaker (marking the first time Taker would challenge for a championship at WrestleMania).  Seemingly Taker and Sid tried to emulate the Taker-Diesel match from 'Mania 12, but unfortunately it failed to live up to that match, and a subpar main event was the result.  This match went too long and, as was often the case, Sid looked lost for much of it.  Taker finally won the WWF Title however, giving the show a feel-good ending.

The other big matchup was the aforementioned Steve Austin vs. an angry, edgier Bret Hart in a no holds barred Submission match, with UFC import Ken Shamrock as the guest referee.  The ensuing battle was nothing short of legendary.  From an action standpoint there have certainly been better matches (including Bret-Austin 1 at Survivor Series '96, IMO), but I can't think of a better example of pure storytelling in a wrestling match (in WWE at least).  Bret went into this match the babyface and left a reviled, vicious heel.  Austin went into the match a nasty bully and emerged as a gallant, tough-as-nails anti-hero.  The visual of Austin being trapped in Bret's Sharpshooter as torrents of blood streamed down his face became one of pro wrestling's iconic images.  Masterful work by both guys.

Is there a more violently iconic image in the history of wrestling?

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

We're back with another entry in the Oscar Film Journal!  Plugging away at this year's Best Picture nominees (I'm halfway through them), I sat down and endured Edward Berger's German-language remake of the 1930 classic All Quiet on the Western Front...

Time to update my old Top Ten Things article ranking the great war films, as there's a new candidate to add to the list.  Berger's remake, somewhat loosely based on the original film and novel, joins films like Saving Private Ryan and Come and See in taking a brutally honest (and I do mean BRUTAL) look at the experience, and in this case futility, of being on the battlefield.  This film begins by dropping us right in the middle of a gory World War I trench skirmish, as a soldier empties his rifle and proceeds to charge at his enemy using only his shovel.  Cut ahead a few months, and that now-dead soldier's uniform is being repurposed along with thousands of others, for a new batch of German teenage recruits duped by those in power into believing that enlisting and shipping off to the front will make them patriotic heroes.  

We follow a group of four young friends, led by Paul Baumer (newcomer Felix Kammerer in a prodigiously stunning performance) who forges his parental consent papers in order to join, and they quickly learn all the heroism and romance they were fed about the war was a lie.  The film immerses us in the harrowing hellscape that was trench warfare, as men are picked off by the dozens during muddy raids, losing limbs and lives in the fruitless pursuit of a tiny swath of terrain.  One of the film's most gut-wrenching scenes involves a Paul killing a French soldier with a knife and then having to listen to him gasp, gargle and flail as he clings to life; this sequence is upsetting on the same level as the knife fight in SPR.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XII

Shawn Michaels realizes his Boyhood Dream.....

Arrowhead Pond - 3/31/96

'Mania 12 was a quantum leap over its predecessor in terms of big-show presentation and wrestling quality.  The card featured only six matches (plus one on the pre-show), but the WWF showcased their talented if somewhat shrunken roster plus a few nostalgic stars, with no guest celebrities whatsoever, and the result was a very solid show with few bad spots.

The hot opener was a very strong six-man tag with Vader, Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith facing off with Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake Roberts. Yoko had just turned babyface after being scorned by manager Jim Cornette in favor of Vader.  Had Yoko's team won he'd have gotten Cornette in the ring for five minutes.  This star-studded match was fast-paced and helped build the Vader contingent as a dominant heel faction, after Vader took out Jake with a Vader Bomb.

Next up was the bizarre Backlot Brawl between Goldust and Roddy Piper - a very violent, stiff fight shot in the parking lot.  This portion of the "match" taken by itself was pretty solid and accomplished what it needed to.  Unfortunately it led to a lame recurring O.J. Simpson joke throughout the show and ended with Piper stripping Goldust down to his lingerie in the ring.  Not sure you could get away with an ending like this today.

STONE COLD!  STONE COLD!  ST-- Oh wait, that wasn't a thing yet?

In the third slot was the debut of a young lion named Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had a decent midcard bout with Savio Vega.  Nothing mindblowing, but not a bad 'Mania debut for the future Hall of Famer.  Austin won after hitting Savio with manager Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Belt and slapping on a very bad looking Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold.

The fourth match was the only real throwaway of the night, as rising star Hunter Hearst Helmsley was killed dead by the returning Ultimate Warrior (who would be gone from the company again four months later and did basically nothing to increase ratings).  A pointless 90-second squash on the biggest PPV of the year.  Warrior infamously informed Hunter backstage, "I'm beating you in 90 seconds."  Things would get worse for HHH over the next few months in the wake of his friends Hall & Nash leaving.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XI

This here WrestleMania is what you might call "half-assed."

Hartford Civic Center - 4/2/95

Here's one of those WrestleMania shows that felt nothing like a supercard should.  The HCC was probably the worst venue ever chosen for 'Mania, and while there was nothing out-and-out offensive on the card, it also didn't seem special in any way.

The WWF tried to create a media blitz by featuring Bam Bam Bigelow against NY Giants superstar Lawrence Taylor, much like they featured Mr. T a decade earlier.  The only problem was #1 LT wasn't a household name like Mr. T, and Bam Bam was a midcard heel with little main event credibility.  The fact that this match went on last is astounding.  It was an ok bout, and LT did the best with what little wrestling acumen he possessed.  But this is a perfect example of why non-wrestling celebrities should not be given an in-ring role, especially if they're supposed to be the babyface.  It leads to a no-win situation, as the non-wrestler basically has to win the match to keep the audience happy, but it makes the actual wrestler look incredibly weak when he loses to an untrained guest star.  If anyone with even a modicum of athletic ability can train for a month and beat an established veteran wrestler, what's so difficult about being a trained veteran wrestler?

So.  You're goin' with that as the main event?  Alright then.

The real main event of the show was also the only real bright spot on the card, as former friends Diesel and Shawn Michaels battled for the WWF Title.  Diesel's sudden main event push was the WWF's attempt to recreate the success of Hulk Hogan.  Sadly Kevin Nash had nowhere near the overwhelming fan support Hogan did, and the Hartford crowd actually ended up cheering the breathtaking athletic abilities of Shawn Michaels.  Even in losing the match, Shawn positioned himself as the next main event babyface.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: From Here to Eternity (1953)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal!  We're headed back to the repressed early 50s once again, for a look at director Fred Zinnemann's second of three Best Picture nominees, From Here to Eternity...

Based on the James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity is considered a romantic war film, centered around a Private named Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) stationed in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Prewitt gets transferred to a post on Oahu because the commanding officer Captain Holmes wants to add him to his boxing team, in the hopes that a strong showing will get Holmes noticed for a promotion.  Only problem is Prewitt has vowed never to box again after accidentally blinding a fellow soldier during a sparring session.  Holmes orders a series of cruel hazing rituals over several months, and Prewitt quietly endures it all.  Meanwhile Prewitt becomes close friends with fellow soldier Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra in an award-winning performance) and begins an odd romance with a social club girl (changed from a prostitute in the novel, due to Hays Code restrictions) named Lorene (Donna Reed), and the two try to decide if his military career will ever line up with her ambition to save up money and move back home to Oregon.  In a side plot, the base's Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) has a torrid affair with Captain Holmes's wife Karen (Hence the iconic image of Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out on the beach).  These numerous melodramatic threads intersect until the Pearl Harbor attack takes place in the film's climax.

WWE Elimination Chamber 2023 Recap, plus NJPW Battle in the Valley

It was a big weekend of wrasslin', between WWE's biggest-ever gate for a B-level PPV and NJPW's sold-out show on US soil.  Lots of stuff happened, most of it good, so let's do a quick recap, shall we?

First Elimination Chamber, which was a good show overall.  The molten Montreal crowd elevated this show beyond its in-ring quality, which was quite solid in its own right.  

The women's Elimination Chamber opened the show and featured very capable action.  Raquel Rodriguez looked like a star in the making, with a powerful performance that only ended after she was double-teamed by Asuka and Carmella.  Nikki Cross got to be her old crazy self again.  Liv Morgan once again played the role of plucky underdog babyface and it took a double submission from Asuka and Natalya to eliminate her.  And of course Asuka was a destroyer, eliminating or co-eliminating three opponents in short order, on her way to becoming Bianca Belair's new #1 contender.  This was 100% the right move and the resulting match at WrestleMania should be another show stealer (for my money Bianca's had the best match of the weekend the last two 'Manias).  Solid work to open the show.  ***1/2

Not so solid was the next match, as Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley once again did a short finisher-spamming sprint with another dumb finish.  I do not understand why anyone likes these Lesnar matches; they're literally all the same.  Brock picks the opponent up, drives him into the corner, hits a few shoulder blocks, hits a few German suplexes, hits an F5, opponent kicks out, opponent hits his two big moves, Brock kicks out, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Stop booking Brock like this!  Would it kill you to have Brock get into a stiff striking battle to start the match, being that Brock and Bobby are both legit MMA guys as well?  Imagine how awesome a G1-style match would be between these two.  This ended after four-and-a-half minutes when Lashley had Brock in the full nelson and Brock kicked him in the groin to draw a disqualification.  So now the plan is Lashley vs. Wyatt, and Brock vs., wait for it.....Omos.  Fuckin' seriously guys?  You're passing up Brock vs. Gunther for this.  Absolute drivel.  *

The History of WWE WrestleMania: X

Well this is more like it.  Moving into the era of The New WWF Generation.....

Madison Square Garden - 3/20/94

For the tenth edition of 'Mania, the WWF returned to the hallowed Madison Square Garden.  This installment featured not one, but two WWF Title matches, as co-Rumble winners Bret Hart and Lex Luger each got a crack at Yokozuna's championship.

However it was the opening bout and a match where Shawn Michaels danced with a ladder that stole the show.

Since Luger won the coin toss to face Yokozuna first (not sure why that's winning exactly, but ok), Bret had to wrestle a secondary match prior to getting his own title shot.  Luckily for everyone, he had just begun a feud with his brother Owen, and the Hart brothers tore the house down in the opening contest.  Famously the brothers had worked out an action-packed, high-flying match but Bret realized the night before the event that a bunch of aerial moves would get Owen cheered instead of booed.  So they scrapped everything and started over.  No complaints from me - this match was twenty minutes of some of the finest wrestling I've ever seen, capped off by a career-making win for Owen. 

Still one of the best matches of all time

One of the weirder matches I've witnessed took place third on the card, as Randy Savage fought Crush in a variation of a Falls Count Anywhere match.  Now I'm not sure if someone in charge was drunk when they came up with this, or if they were just confused by the FCA rules, but in this case the object was to pin your opponent outside the ring, roll back into the ring, and hope the opponent couldn't get back in within 60 seconds.  There were three falls in this match before Crush finally failed to get back within the time limit, which meant that in a 9-minute match, nearly 3 full minutes consisted of one of the wrestlers waiting inside the ring for the other to climb back in.  Did TNA come up with these rules?

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Wrestling Do-Overs: WrestleMania IX

Welcome to another edition of Wrestling Do-Overs, where I'll examine a wrestling show or angle and reshape it as I think it should've been (For other examples see my WrestleMania IV and Starrcade '89 editions).  Today I'll be going back and retroactively fixing what is the most widely reviled of all WrestleManias, the ninth edition!

Now let me preface this by saying 'Mania 9 is not my least favorite of them all.  It's certainly not a good show but it had a few decent matches and despite the worst-booked ending ever in the history of wrestling-- nay, entertainment-- nay, humankind, there have been worse installments in WrestleMania history.

But don't think I'm letting this show off the hook.  It was quite clearly a mess and could've been fixed up pretty nicely with only a few adjustments.  So let's first take a look at the lineup and see why it didn't work.

Intercontinental Championship: Shawn Michaels vs. Tatanka - 18:13
The Steiner Brothers vs. The Headshrinkers - 14:22
Doink the Clown vs. Crush - 8:28
Razor Ramon vs. Bob Backlund - 3:45
Tag Team Championship: Money Inc. vs. The Mega-Maniacs - 18:27
Lex Luger vs. Mr. Perfect - 10:56
The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez - 7:33
WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna - 8:55
WWF Championship: Yokozuna vs. Hulk Hogan - 0:22

Yeesh, that's what passed for a WrestleMania lineup in 1993?  Okay, first let's look at what did work.

To start with, I kinda liked the Roman Colosseum theme - I know, it was corny and led to way too many cheap laughs, but overall I enjoyed the idea of dressing up Caesar's Palace as a Roman arena.  It gave the show a nice sense of pageantry and made it look different from other PPVs and even other WrestleManias.  Could they have left out some of the window dressing, like making the announcers dress up in togas?  Yes.  But overall I didn't have a problem with the theme, and holding the event outside made it feel special.  By the way, the officially announced attendance figure was 16,891.  I call bullshit on that.  Look at this pic below.  No chance in hell did they fit more than 8,000 in that little venue, and that's being generous.

17 thousand people my ass

A few of the matches were good, as I said before.

The opening Shawn Michaels-Tatanka match was solid stuff, and while certainly not one of Shawn's career highlights, was easily the best match Tatanka ever had.  This got a good amount of time (though I would've shortened it to maybe 15 minutes) and Shawn got to steal the show (by default, but still).  The countout ending was weak, but I still like this match.

The Steiners-Headshrinkers bout was another good one.  Rick and Scott had burst on the WWF scene a few months earlier and were way over, and these two teams meshed quite well actually.  I'll never forget the spot where Rick reversed a Doomsday Device-type move by catching Samu in midair and suplexing him off Fatu's shoulders.  Just a sick spot.

This was both craze-balls and amaze-balls

I found Crush vs. Doink inoffensive and mildly entertaining, so I'll leave that one alone.  Doink's psycho clown character was great, and so of course they turned him babyface six months later and he became a throwaway comedy act.  Dipshits.  Anywho, this match can stay just because it furthered a feud.

Friday, February 17, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: IX

A unique presentation couldn't save this show from its abysmal ending....

Caesar's Palace - 4/4/93

What an odd little piece of wrestling lore this event was.  From the Roman-themed venue/set design to the size mismatch of the main event, this installment was nothing if not unique.  It was the first outdoor WrestleMania and the first without both Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura on commentary - Jim Ross made his WWF debut instead (helluva way to start a new job!).  It also featured a much younger overall roster than previous shows, as quite a few stars made their 'Mania debuts here.

'Mania 9 is considered by many to be the worst of the bunch.  I don't agree with that statement, but it's certainly something of a mess.  The show started out well enough, with a strong I-C match between Shawn Michaels and Tatanka that actually got more time than any other match and featured the added intrigue of Shawn's ex-manager Sherri Martel facing off with Luna Vachon.  Things continued from there with a very good Steiners-Headshrinkers tag match that included one of the crazier spots I'd ever seen - Rick Steiner countering a Doomsday Device by catching Samu midair and nailing a belly-to-belly suplex.  Even Crush vs. Doink was passable in slot three - a goofy but sort of enjoyable brawl showcasing Doink's diabolical heel antics.

The show took a downturn with the bewilderingly short Bob Backlund vs. Razor Ramon, and then became a total clusterfuck as Money Inc. took on the returning Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake for the Tag belts.  The match dragged on for 18 minutes and was painful to watch, and ended with a DQ win for Money Inc.  Sadly this would not be the last we saw of Hogan that night.

Lex Luger vs. Mr. Perfect looked spectacular on paper but failed to crack 2-star territory, and the Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales flat-out stunk up the place.

One of the most disappointing matches ever

Which brings us to the WWF title match.  What a bizarre main event - an established smaller workhorse against a totally unproven 500-pounder.  Bret Hart managed to get a quite entertaining little match out of Yokozuna, and then everything went to hell.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

NJPW Battle in the Valley 2023 Preview & Predictions

This Saturday we'll be treated to not just one, but two big PPV events, the second of which is brought to us by New Japan Pro Wrestling!

That's right, NJPW returns to San Jose with a huge card that will not only feature a legendary bout for the IWGP World Title, but also the New Japan in-ring debut of Mercedes Mone!  The former Sasha Banks hopes to bring NJPW to a whole new audience as she vies for the company's new Women's Championship.  

But first let's look at the undercard.

Máscara Dorada, Josh Alexander, Adrian Quest & Rocky Romero vs. Kushida, Volador Jr., Kevin Knight and The DKC

I'm glad to see Dorada back in New Japan after WWE did absolutely zilch with the guy.  Back in 2015 when I first saw some of his matches I was very impressed, and when he signed with WWE I was hugely disappointed-but-not-surprised Vince didn't see any potential there.  If we added up all the wasted potential of WWE signees over the years we could just about squeeze it all into the Grand fuckin' Canyon.  Anyway I have no idea who wins this, but I'll pick team Dorada just for shits and giggles.

Pick: Dorada/Alexander/Quest/Romero

Strong Openweight Championship: Fred Rosser vs. Kenta

It's former NXT hopeful Darren Young vs. former NXT hopeful Hideo Itami!  Fred is the company's first Strong Openweight Champion and he's held the title since last May, so I could easily see Kenta taking it here to start some kinda US-based feud.

Pick: Kenta

The History of WWE WrestleMania: VIII

WrestleMania returns to a stadium for a show that was half-great....

HoosierDome - 4/5/92

'Mania returned to a more fitting venue in 1992, as the WWF took over the HoosierDome in Indianapolis.  This stadium actually resembles a smaller Silverdome, so it made 'Mania 8 feel like a big deal.  The influx of new headliners, fresh matchups, and the double main event certainly didn't hurt either.

Seemingly the obvious main event for the 8th edition was Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title.  It was the biggest dream match in the business, and throughout the 80s fans speculated on who was the bigger star.  Unfortunately the WWF somehow blew the whole thing by presenting this gigantic matchup with little fanfare, on a series of 1991 house shows.  And the match evidently didn't blow anyone's skirt up.  Couple that with Hogan deciding to take some time off in 1992, and the big dream match was off for WrestleMania.

Instead Flair defended the Title against a much more skilled opponent in Randy Savage, and Hogan once again tried to duplicate the Hogan-Andre dynamic by wrestling Sid Justice.

The WWF Title match was excellent and became the strongest WWF Title match in WrestleMania history at that time.  Flair and Savage put on a classic seesaw match that would launch the Macho Man back to the top of the roster.  Bafflingly, this match was not put in the main event slot, which sort of robbed Savage of his glorious WrestleMania moment.  Flair-Savage was fifth on the card of nine matches, and unfortunately everything that followed it was mediocre or worse.

Great shot.  Great match too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

WWE Elimination Chamber 2023 Preview & Predictions

This Saturday is the return of WWE Elimination Chamber!

Well WWE under Triple H's creative direction has actually become a pretty watchable product all-told, with clear plans for WrestleMania season and multiple top stars actually drawing ratings and ticket sales.  Weird how simple that concept is.  Anyway, after an uneven but overall pretty good Royal Rumble PPV, the stage is set for this five-match show which should hopefully be a fairly easy watch.  We have a huge WWE Universal Title match with WrestleMania implications, plus the usual two Chamber bouts, and a special attraction rematch from last year's Rumble that could either be really good or really lazy and predictable.  Let's take a look...

Edge & Beth Phoenix vs. Finn Balor & Rhea Ripley

This is the least important match on the show and I assume it'll lead to a one-on-one WrestleMania match between the dudes involved; we already know Ripley is busy at the Show of Shows, challenging Charlotte Flair.  There's plenty of talent to go around here so this should be a solid affair.  I assume the heels win here to set up the singles match.

Pick: Finn and Rhea

Men's Elimination Chamber: Austin Theory vs. Seth Rollins vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Damian Priest vs. Bronson Reed vs. Montez Ford

Some good talent in this match as well, and this will hopefully be booked in such a way that the US Title gains back some of the prestige it's lost over the last fifteen years or so.  Rumor has it they want to do Theory vs. John Cena at 'Mania, which is a lukewarm proposition for me.  It would obviously be good for the championship, the guy who used to do open challenges to make the title feel important vs. the guy everyone's pretending is the next John Cena.  But I'd rather see Theory vs. Gargano I think.  Anywho, I think Theory retains through underhanded means.

Pick: Theory retains

Oscar Film Journal: Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

And we're back to review one of the current Best Picture nominees, and in this case I use the phrase "Best Picture nominee" very loosely....

Yeah that's right, I'm about to pop a lot of balloons over 2022's most shameless nostalgia cash-grab, Top Gun: Maverick!  

Before I get into why I found this movie just cosmically overrated and maybe the most preposterous Best Picture nominee since Ghost, let me divulge what I did enjoy about it.  The action sequences are first rate, technically marvelous, mindbogglingly dangerous, and Tom Cruise proves himself a crazy person yet again for some of the stunts he does in this film.  Of course the main objective of the pilots is lifted almost beat for beat from Star Wars: A New Hope.  Like seriously, how didn't every film critic who lauded this movie like it's the greatest action fare ever produced seem to pick up on this?  "You must maneuver down this trench ravine, staying below radar and anti-aircraft cannons, and skim the surface till you reach the target area, which is only two three meters wide, then you must pull out in time to avoid crashing, while also evading enemy fighters.  Maverick, at that speed will you be able to pull out in time??"  Christ, the loudmouth jerk pilot even swoops in at the last minute to save the day, and one of the pilots has to take the shot blind when his targeting system fails.  Corporate needs you to find the differences between these two pictures.  

That said, the flying scenes are exhilarating in the same way those of the first movie are exhilarating.  I actually found the training exercises more fun than the actual mission, which is presented in such a way that there's no doubt the good guys will not only accomplish said mission but also escape with their lives.  The fun is in Maverick attempting to get these youngsters (minus Rooster, who by my math has to be about forty years old in this story) to simulate this impossible mission (TM) in the time allotted.  One question though, why'd they pick the tallest part of the mountain as their egress instead of banking slightly to the left or right, toward one of the smaller peaks of the crater?  Second question, wouldn't a team of American pilots blowing up an enemy's uranium plant be met with retaliation?  No one thinks to address this?  Anyway, aside from the insipid banter of the pilots and running commentary ("I'm out of ammunition, I'll just have to evade them" - yeah we can see that, this isn't a radio program), the flight scenes are a lot of fun, made more immersive by the use of IMAX cameras.  The team who made Wings will take their royalty check now...  

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal!

Today I'll be talking about a highly influential film from the 1940s, considered a career highlight for its writer/director and its two main stars, and essentially a film noir/Western mashup, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  One of John Huston's most acclaimed works, based on the 1927 novel by mysterious author B. Traven, this is the story of three gold prospectors who venture into the unforgiving Sierras to dig for gold and find their fortune.  

The main character in the book is grizzled prospector Howard (played to perfection in this film by John's father Walter Huston in one of his last film roles), the only one in the group with gold mining experience and the most likable of the story's three scoundrels.  In the film version the focus is shifted a bit more to Fred Dobbs, played by Humphrey Bogart in a dirtbag performance delivered with scummy relish (Bogart was infamously snubbed by the Academy for this role).  Dobbs begins the film as a down-on-his-luck American drifter in Mexico, looking for work and begging for cash, and that's about as nice as this character ever gets.  As he and his partners amass a fortune in gold, Dobbs descends into paranoia and violence, providing the film's strongest character arc.  The third partner Bob Curtin is played by veteran Western actor Tim Holt, in a performance that sort of takes the opposite trajectory to Bogart's.  Curtin starts out as a fellow drifter and gradually becomes more honorable as the story progresses; if we root for anyone in this film it's Curtin.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: VII

It's a Star-Spangled WrestleMania.....in a tiny venue....

L.A. Sports Arena - 3/24/91

The seventh installment ended up being one of the most forgettable.  What was intended to be a record-smashing supershow in front of 100,000 fans at the L.A. Coliseum was relegated to the 15,000-seat Sports Arena when ticket sales fell horribly short of expectations.  That will happen though when your main event is little more than the exploitation of a minor real-life skirmish in the Middle East.  Why the WWF thought the US vs. Iraq angle would draw big business I'm not sure, especially since the real conflict ended over a month before WrestleMania.

Sgt. Slaughter was inexplicably brought in as a turncoat and almost immediately handed the WWF Title at the Royal Rumble, all so he could face the American Hero Hulk Hogan.  Surely a Hogan vs. Warrior rematch would've drawn the numbers they wanted, so I'm still unclear why they didn't go that route.

The match was what it was.  It certainly could've been worse, but it definitely wasn't good.  It's widely considered one of, if not THE worst all-time WrestleMania main event.  Slaughter was about as unworthy a WWF Champion as there's ever been and it was a sad day indeed when Hulk Hogan is by far the better worker in a given match.  This meandering brawl lasted over 21 minutes before Hogan mercifully put an end to the proceeding with the ol' big boot-legdrop combo.  Sadly this didn't even end the feud, as it stretched on and off until SummerSlam.  Christ almighty.....

Yep.  Can't imagine why this didn't sell 100,000 tickets.

'Mania 7 was saved however by the semi-main event of Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior, with the stipulation that the loser would have to retire.  This feud had been brewing for several months while Warrior was WWF Champion, but Savage was battling nagging injuries and was thus unable to compete for a while.  Though I don't consider this match nearly as great as most do, it was easily one of the WWF's best of 1991.  This match paved the way for the overuse of finishers in big matchups (see Austin vs. Rock).  Savage hit five flying elbow smashes in a row and failed to get the pin, and the Warrior finally won after three flying tackles.  Post-match Savage's manager Sherri Martel attacked him, having lost her meal ticket due to the retirement stip.  Who should come to Savage's rescue but Miss Elizabeth, much to the delight and tears of the crowd.  Savage would spend the next several months as a commentator before returning to action that November.

Monday, February 13, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: VI

In my opinion the worst WrestleMania of all time.  Fight me.....

The Skydome - 4/1/90

'Mania returned to a stadium setting in 1990, with a gigantic face vs. face main event for both of the singles championships.  Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior was arguably an even bigger match than Hogan vs. Savage, in that it had never happened before and featured the company's top two babyfaces head to head.

The match itself was similar in style to the Hogan-Savage match from a year earlier, except it lacked a great wrestler to carry the workload.  Hogan and Warrior did what they could, but two mediocre wrestlers squaring off for 20+ minutes can only do so much.  While the aura surrounding the match was pretty epic, the match itself always left me rather bored, and I consider it one of the more overrated matches in WWF/E history.  It was notable however for being one of the few times Hulk Hogan ever jobbed cleanly.  This was a true passing of the torch (which unfortunately didn't really stick, but that's beside the point); a rare example of Hogan acting unselfishly and putting his stamp of approval on a would-be successor.

A titanic battle.....between two mediocre workers.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: V

The first WrestleMania I was able to watch live as it happened, via closed-circuit television....

Trump Plaza - 4/2/89

Oh we're still in this weird convention center, are we?  The fifth installment marked the first and only time the supercard was held in the same arena two years in a row.  'Mania 5 was also a 4-hour card and featured 14 matches.  This show succeeded where IV failed however in showcasing a mammoth featured bout, as former allies Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage collided for the WWF Title.

Hogan-Savage was the first WrestleMania main event that was actually a strong wrestling match, and also the first to exceed the fifteen minute mark.  If Savage-Steamboat was the prototypical WWF workrate clinic, Hogan-Savage was the model for how to do an epic WWF main event match.  It was full of action, reversals, drama and intrique, and until the inevitably stupid "hulk-up" comeback/no-sell in the final minute, it was one of the best matches of 1989.  It was also the 18-month culmination of one of the best story arcs in wrestling history: the formation, ascension, and eventual implosion of the MegaPowers.  This was a brilliantly executed angle from start to finish.  Unfortunately Savage's stock was pretty damaged by this feud and he spent the next couple years as just another guy.

Savage looks less than thrilled about being tossed out of the main event picture.

The WrestleMania Intercontinental Title match somewhat returned to form as the Ultimate Warrior faced Rick Rude in a near show-stealer.  Their Summerslam rematch five months later would overshadow the initial clash, but this is still a fine undercard match with a great cheap ending - Warrior went to suplex Rude from the apron into the ring when Bobby Heenan tripped Warrior and held his leg down, allowing Rude to fall on top of him for the pin.

WrestleMania V was another show that simply had too much going on (a pattern that would continue for a couple more years), and a few trims to the lineup could've made this a much stronger overall card (Did we really need Heenan vs. Red Rooster, Dino Bravo vs. Ronnie Garvin, or Jim Duggan vs. Bad News Brown?).  Still there were a lot of fun little matches.  The opener, Hercules vs. King Haku was better than it had any right to be, Mr. Perfect vs. Blue Blazer was a solid showcase of unorthodox offense, the Hart Foundation vs. Honky Tonk & Valentine was a nice tag match, and the Rockers' 'Mania debut against the Twin Towers ended up as a very enjoyable size mismatch and one of the best bouts of the night.

Shawn's first WrestleMania

Oscar Film Journal: A Star Is Born (1937)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal here at Enuffa.com, where I go back and review a Best Picture nominee of years past, in my near-futile attempt to watch all 591 of them (I'm now at 269 and counting...)!

Today it's the original version (and I use the word "original" loosely for reasons I'll get to shortly) of A Star Is Born, directed by William A. Wellman (of Wings fame) and starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor.  By now most of you should be familiar with the basic premise of this film, given that it's been remade not once, not twice, but thrice, and the newest version starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga was a mega-hit.  Ordinary young woman with untapped talent dreams of becoming a star, gets discovered by older male star whose fame is fading, becomes a huge star herself, marries the guy, the guy self-destructs due to his rampant alcoholism, and so on.  It's a compelling narrative to be sure, and one that's universal enough to remain relevant generation after generation, hence all the remakes.  

But did you know?  The original 1937 film, written by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Robert Carson, was the subject of a potential plagiarism lawsuit?  It's true, there was a film five years earlier called What Price Hollywood? whose story is almost beat for beat the same as this one.  In the end that film's distributor RKO Pictures opted not to pursue litigation against David O. Selznick for this movie, though I'm honestly not sure why; they'd easily have had a compelling case based from where I sit.  Seriously, it's basically the same damn movie.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Wrestling Do-Overs: WWF WrestleMania IV

What up fools?  Welcome to Wrestling Do-Overs, where I'll take a famous pro wrestling card or angle and reimagine it the way I would've booked it.

Today I'll be talking about WrestleMania IV, which took place March 27, 1988 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City.  This show is best remembered for the first-ever WWF Title tournament which saw Randy "Macho Man" Savage win four matches to become the new Champion.  Now all that is great, but the show itself from a wrestling standpoint, well.....kinda sucked.  They tried to cram sixteen matches on a four-hour PPV, only one of which lasted more than twelve minutes (that being a terribly dull fifteen-minute draw in the first round).  There was simply too much going on and not enough time for any of the individual matches to properly deliver.

So I'm going to overhaul the card and present it the way I think it should've gone down.  Before I do though, let's look at the card the way it actually transpired:


20-Man Battle Royal
Honky Tonk Man vs. Brutus Beefcake
Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules
British Bulldogs/Koko B. Ware vs. Islanders/Bobby Heenan
Strike Force vs. Demolition

See what I mean?  There just wasn't enough good wrestling going on, and even the tournament final/main event was an overbooked nine-minute mess when it should've been a potential Match of the Year.

So first off, let's change the 14-man tournament to an 8-man.  Now I know what you're thinking; but Justin, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant are supposed to get a bye into the second round!  And they still do; Hogan and Andre are automatically entered into the tournament, whereas the remaining six competitors have to win qualifying matches on WWF Superstars of Wrestling in the weeks leading up to the show. 

Tournament Qualifiers

Ted Dibiase defeats Don Muraco
Jim Duggan defeats One Man Gang
Randy Savage defeats Butch Reed
Ricky Steamboat defeats Greg Valentine
Jake Roberts defeats Dino Bravo
Rick Rude defeats Bam Bam Bigelow

So your first-round bracket looks like this:

The History of WWE WrestleMania: IV

Continuing with Enuffa.com's History of WrestleMania, today I'll be covering the one edition that featured a championship tournament.  And it ended up kind of a bloated mess....

Trump Plaza - 3/27/88

'Mania IV was assembled with the intent of giving us the biggest edition to date, with the centerpiece being the first-ever WWF World Title tournament, the result of a controversial Hulk Hogan-Andre the Giant match on NBC that saw Hogan screwed out of the Championship only for Andre to turn around and sell the belt to Ted Dibiase.  WrestleMania IV featured a huge roster and was expanded to three-and-a-half hours to accommodate the sprawling 16-match card.

Unfortunately this show suffered from simply having too much going on, not to mention some absolutely terrible booking.  The tournament involved 14 men and all by itself necessitated 11 matches.  As a result almost none of the tourney matches, including the final, were given enough time to be very memorable.  The venue is also a far cry from the Silverdome, Trump Plaza being a rather cavernous arena where the crowd consisted largely of Donald Trump's business associates who showed almost no enthusiasm for the four-hour wrestling bonanza.

This was goofy fun

The undercard featured a battle royal (which was fun but of little importance except as a way to turn Bret Hart babyface after he was doublecrossed by Bad News Brown), Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules in a clash of powerhouses (which was so short as to barely warrant a mention), a British Bulldogs/Koko vs. Islanders/Bobby Heenan six-man tag, nowhere near as good as the previous year's Bulldogs-Harts match, which ended in similar fashion with the non-wrestler pinning one of the Bulldogs.  Those poor Bulldogs....

There were also two title matches - I-C Champion The Honky Tonk Man faced the wildly popular Brutus Beefcake in a brief and forgettable DQ loss, while Strike Force and Demolition was one of the few strong matches on the card, ending with Ax murdering Rick Martel with Mr. Fuji's cane in a finish very similar to the WrestleMania I Tag Title match.  Thus began Demolition's record-breaking title run.

The WWF Title tournament itself was fine in theory but very poor in execution.  Only four of the 14 participants really had a chance of leaving 'Mania as the Champion, and two of them were eliminated in their first match.  The Hogan vs. Andre quarterfinal bout marked the first time a WrestleMania featured a rematch from the previous year.  Sadly where their 1987 encounter was extremely memorable and has achieved legendary status, its 1988 threequel was little more than a throwaway designed to get both men out of the tournament (via a clumsy-as-shit double disqualification after Hogan hit Andre with a chair, then Andre hit Hogan with the same chair).  Really the only standout match in this entire tourney was the first-round match between Ricky Steamboat and Greg Valentine.  Everything else was either too short (Bam Bam Bigelow vs. One Man Gang for example, which ended when OMG refused to let Bam Bam back into the ring and the referee inexplicably counted Bigelow out), inoffensive but instantly forgettable (Dibiase vs. Don Muraco), or yawn-inducing (Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude, which took place after their feud-inciting angle involving Jake's wife was taped, but before it aired).

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The History of WWE WrestleMania: III

The one edition that's totally critic-proof....

Pontiac Silverdome - 3/29/87

Now we're talkin'.  WrestleMania III was, and probably still is, the biggest wrestling supercard of all time.  Arguably no single wrestling match has carried the sheer magnitude or mainstream appeal of Hogan vs. Andre.  There's a consensus among internet wrestling fans (i.e. the harshest critics in the business): When it comes to WrestleMania III, star ratings do not apply.

Let's be honest, Hogan vs. Andre is a terrible, terrible match from an in-ring standpoint.  Had that been Dan Spivey vs. Big John Studd performing the exact same match, it would've been booed like X-Pac and ranked high on the all-time DUD list.  But somehow the mediocre Hogan and the damn near immobile Andre captured the imagination of everyone on that night, and delivered the best and most memorable awful match in history which climaxed with The Bodyslam Heard 'Round the World.

On the other end of the workrate spectrum lay the #2 draw of the night, Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat.  What can I say that hasn't been said already?  It's an all-time classic; a near-perfect match that has stood the test of time and then some. 'Mania 3 is remembered just as much for this match as for Hogan-Andre, and it became the prototype for the WWF-style five-star match.  Sadly Steamboat's planned long-term Intercontinental Title run was derailed when he asked for a reduced schedule to focus on his newborn son, and this would be his last great WWF match.

Goddamn this match is 17 kinds of awesome.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Hi there, welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com!

We're back in the present day, with a look at one of the 2022 Best Pic nominees, Martin McDonough's dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin, which reunites his two stars from In Bruges, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.  But unlike McDonough's comedic crime debut, Banshees is a slow, meditative "tragicomedy" that would feel somewhat at home in the Coen Brothers' filmography.

Farrell and Gleeson play former lifelong best friends on the fictional island of Inisherin, during the Irish Civil War.  One day milk farmer Padraic (Farrell) heads over to meet musician Colm (Gleeson) for their daily 2pm ritual of sharing a few pints at the local pub, only to find Colm sitting silently at his cottage, ignoring Padraic.  Agonizing over whether he's done or said something to offend his best friend, Padraic confronts Colm, who tells him he's too dull to spend any more of his remaining time with.  Colm instead opts to focus on composing music and only consorting with people he finds interesting.  When Padraic tries to reason with his friend, Colm tells him that for every time Padraic bothers him, he'll sever one of his own fingers and send it to Padraic's house.  

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 2

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, this stunk...

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