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.

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.  *

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

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.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: A Star Is Born (1937)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal here at, 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.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

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

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.  

Friday, February 3, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Wings (1927)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal here at!

We're setting the way-back machine nearly a century for this one.  That's right, all the way back to 1927, and the first-ever Academy Award winner for Best Picture (in addition to being the only silent film to achieve said accolade, until 2011's The Artist).  Today's subject is the World War I flying epic Wings, starring Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen.

Directed by former military pilot William A. Wellman (whose legitimate combat flight credentials sold Paramount Studios on his being the perfect candidate to helm this picture), Wings focuses on a sort of love triangle between three (or more accurately four) small-town characters, whose lives are impacted significantly by The Great War.  Fresh-faced Jack Powell's lifelong dream is to fly a plane, but being a young fellow of modest means he's settled for fixing up an old jalopy and calling it the Shooting Star.  His neighbor Mary Preston (a wonderfully expressive Clara Bow) is desperately in love with him, but Jack's got designs on the glamorous Sylvia, who in turn is in love with the town's richest bachelor David Armstrong.  Once the characters and their relationships are established, the film wastes no time plunging us headlong into Jack and David's exploits as Army Air cadets-turned-star pilots.  

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Belfast (2021)

Rolling into the 2023 Oscar season, I'm back with another Oscar Film Journal entry!

I'm still catching up with a few movies from last year's Oscar season, including Kenneth Branagh's intimate, autobiographical piece Belfast, about a young boy navigating family relationships, peer pressure, his first romantic feelings, and the escalating sectarian Protestant-Catholic war which would come to be known as The Troubles.  When we first meet nine-year-old Buddy, he's playing with his friends in the street, wielding a wooden sword and a trash can lid as a shield, when suddenly a Protestant gang loots his neighborhood, smashing windows and setting a car on fire.  

This opening scene establishes both the film's economy of storytelling and its small-scope look at this world-coming-apart from Buddy's point of view.  We see very little of Northern Ireland's civil unrest through a big-picture lens, instead only catching snippets of news reports, overheard parental conversations, and isolated incidents Buddy sees with his own eyes.  But The Troubles are primarily a backdrop, in front of which the film explores Buddy's close relationship with his grandparents and his older cousin Moira, who turns out to be a bad influence.  There's also his parents' central conflict, whether or not to move out of Belfast and out of harm's way.  Buddy's father is a tradesman who works in England, only coming home every couple weeks to spend time with his family.  His mother raises Buddy and his older brother mostly alone and is so entrenched in their neighborhood and its close friendships she can't imagine leaving Belfast.

NJPW The New Beginning 2023 Preview & Predictions

This weekend is the start of the proper NJPW The New Beginning shows (I skipped the Nagoya show in my predictions because there was little of interest), and there are some big bouts on tap, with numerous titles at stake.

It's a busy month for NJPW, between the two Sapporo shows this weekend, the Osaka show next weekend, and the huge Battle in the Valley card the following weekend.  For the first time since before the pandemic it feels like NJPW's schedule is back to normal and they're offering consistent shows that aren't skippable.  Last month's WrestleKingdom was something of a return to form and it looks like the rest of the year will follow suit.  Good to have you back guys.

As I usually do with these multi-night shows that only feature a few matches of consequence, I'll just be picking winners in said matches of consequence.  

Sapporo Night 1

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Catch 2/2 vs. Douki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Not much to this one - Douki and Kanemaru are there to give Catch 2/2 a successful title defense and that's about it.  I don't see this being any kind of epic tag match, but it should be fine.

Pick: Catch 2/2 retains

Will Ospreay vs. Taichi

This is an odd pairing, as far as I know these two aren't really feuding.  Maybe I missed the inciting incident that led to this?  Anyway, Ospreay is coming off one of the best matches of his career, but a tough loss at that.  Time to regroup, rack up some wins, and challenge Kenny Omega at Forbidden Door II for the IWGP US Title he lost.

Pick: Ospreay

Shota Umino vs. Tetsuya Naito

This one will be interesting.  Umino scored the pinfall over Naito's stablemate Bushi at the Dome to help establish him as an up and coming star.  This kid is so very close to finding his groove and a match like this should help him get there.  I think Naito probably ekes out a win but Umino comes off like a budding star in the process.

Pick: Naito