Thursday, March 30, 2023

ROH Supercard of Honor 2023 Preview & Predictions

Not to be overlooked this WrestleMania weekend, this Friday is Ring of Honor's annual mega-show, marking the first anniversary of ROH's resurgence under Tony Khan's ownership.  

This lineup is another stacked one, with a long-brewing ROH Title feud coming to fruition, a couple of NJPW stars joining the party, a wild AAA Mega Title match, and a special ladder match to crown new tag team champions, dedicated to Jay Briscoe.  This should be one spectacular show in front of 4000-plus fans, so let's take a dive....

ROH Six-Man Tag Team Championship: The Embassy vs. AR Fox, Blake Christian & Metalik

Could this be Brian Cage's swan song under the Tony Khan umbrella?  No one's really sure, but if the Embassy drops the straps here that could be our answer.  This will be a lot of nonstop action and would make sense as the opening match to get the crowd revved up.

Pick: I foresee a title change to kick things off with a bang.  Fox/Blake/Metalik 

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Daniel Garcia

Just announced last night, this one pits the AEW up-and-comer against the NJPW all-time great.  Must be a dream come true for young Daniel.  I assume he'll more than happily do the job for the vaunted legend, but Tanahashi will do everything he can to make him look like a million bucks before it's over.

Pick: Tanahashi

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

WWE WrestleMania 39 Preview & Predictions

It's that time again, folks.  It's the biggest wrestling show of the whole year, one that's been so watered down in recent years I've had a very tough time getting much excitement out of it.  But this year is different.

Yes, this weekend is the 39th edition of WrestleMania, the PPV WWE's entire calendar year used to build to.  And for the first time in a loooong time the build for this show and its on-paper lineup feel like something special.  I still haven't been watching the weekly programming (there are only so many hours in a day), but I've been keeping up with how most of these matches were put together, and it's been refreshing to see things done in a simple, logical, straightforward manner where the result in most cases will be a good in-ring payoff.  The main event is the culmination of a year-long journey for the WWE Title challenger.  Both women's title matches involve a decorated veteran facing a younger upstart, though in one case the veteran is the champ and in the other she's the challenger.  We have a rare celebrity match that could actually steal the show.  We have a massive Tag Team Title match pitting the dominant, long-reigning champs against two of the company's hottest babyfaces.  We have a Hell in a Cell match that was built up in the traditional fashion instead of just shoehorned in to fit a gimmick PPV.  We have a probable stinker between a finish-spammer and an immobile giant - hey, they can't all be good, it is still WWE after all...

But the point is, this is the most promising lineup for a WrestleMania show in I dunno how long, and it'll be the biggest test of Triple H's still-young tenure as head of main roster Creative.  If he knocks this one out of the park (and financially that's already been the case), regardless who buys WWE, there's little business reason for Vince to try and take back the reins.  But we'll see.  As someone who's been a jaded-at-best WWE fan for most of the last twenty years it feels good to actually care about WrestleMania again.

Let's look at the lineup....

US Championship: Austin Theory vs. John Cena

This old vs. young dream match of sorts is slotted to open Night 1.  Theory has long been touted as having the potential to be the next John Cena, and while I personally don't see it, let's not forget how not-promising Cena was at that age.  Anyway, this should be entertaining, as Theory does have natural charisma and Cena at this point is fun to watch at worst.  Generally speaking it doesn't make sense for the old guy to beat the current guy for whom you have high hopes, and I think Hunter would tend to agree.  Theory should retain unless the plan is for Cena to stick around for a month or more, which I don't think it is.

Pick: Theory retains

Becky Lynch, Lita & Trish Stratus vs. Damage CTRL

Another match featuring stars of old, there's oodles of in-ring ability and charisma in this one.  Unlike the previous bout though, there's no harm here in having the veteran team win, especially since Becky will likely be the one scoring the pinfall.  Should be a short but fun bout.

Pick: Team Becky

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Cries and Whispers (1972)

Time for a weird entry in the Oscar Film Journal....

Today I'll be attempting to dissect Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-nominated period drama Cries and Whispers, released in 1972 but oddly recognized by the Academy as a 1973 film.  What are they, the Grammys??

Anyway, Cries and Whispers centers around three 19th century sisters and their housekeeper.  The eldest(?) Agnes is dying of late-stage cancer and is in crippling pain almost constantly.  Her two sisters Maria and Karin take turns watching over her, along with Anna the housemaid.  Interspersed with this main story thread are Maria and Karin's flashbacks to traumatic episodes involving their respective husbands.  Maria cheated on hers with Agnes's doctor, causing her husband Joakim to attempt suicide by stabbing himself.  Karin is repulsed by her husband and engages in self-mutilation to dissuade him from wanting her sexually.  Both sisters have very strong neuroses in dealing with others - Karin can't bear physical contact of any kind, while Maria seems to interact with everyone erotically, indifferent to the consequences of her actions.  Anna, the most religious of the group, lost her young daughter years earlier and is the most genuinely affectionate toward Agnes in her time of need, cradling her dying friend against her naked skin (Could they have been lovers?  The film doesn't say for sure.).  All four of these women are scarred by trauma of one kind or another, and the film focuses very closely on their various forms of suffering.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Queen (2006)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal, here at!  Still plugging away at past nominees, hoping to cross that halfway mark this year....

Today's entry is the 2006 biographical drama The Queen, starring Helen Mirren in a performance that won her the Oscar, plus Michael Sheen and James Cromwell.  Directed by Stephen Frears and written by The Crown creator Peter Morgan, The Queen takes place mostly over a one-week period in 1997, just after Princess Diana's fatal car crash, and covers what was essentially a power struggle between Britain's long-serving Queen Elizabeth II and its newly elected, optimistic young Prime Minister Tony Blair.  As the country grieves intensely for the beloved ex-Princess (whose relationship with the Royal Family was contentious at best), Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip's apparent aloofness toward the tragedy draws public ire, contrasted with Blair's heartfelt, galvanizing speech dubbing Diana "The People's Princess."  The Queen and the Prime Minister find themselves at odds in dealing with the fallout, Elizabeth clinging to the old, traditional mindset of not publicly showing emotion and keeping the grieving process private and "dignified."  Blair however has his finger on the pulse and correctly determines that the country needs its leaders to show empathy and guide them through this difficult time.  Despite having a very different vision for Britain's leadership, Blair also recognizes that he and his Queen need to remain allies for the good of the nation, privately urging her to join him in comforting her people.  As the out-of-touch Elizabeth and Philip further dig their heels in, their public approval nosedives to the point that one in four Brits supports ending the monarchy altogether.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Fabelmans (2022)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal, here at!  I'm on a roll, let's keep it goin'....

"Hollywood is so out of ideas Steven Spielberg had to make a movie about Steven Spielberg."  Alright, that was a good one, Jimmy Kimmel.  

Yes, today's subject is the semiautobiographical The Fabelmans, directed and co-written by legendary auteur Steven Spielberg, about his teen years as a budding filmmaker, amid his parents' dissolving marriage.  Starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and relative newcomer Gabriel LaBelle as young Steven (called Sam Fabelman in the film), The Fabelmans begins with a five-year-old Sam and his first moviegoing experience.  His parents take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth, and Sam is captivated/terrified by that film's climactic train crash sequence.  For Hanukkah he receives a toy train set and becomes obsessed with recreating the scene, much to his father's chagrin.  But his free-spirited, piano-playing mom shows him how to film the staged crash with a home movie camera so he can watch it over and over instead of damaging the toy train.  From there little Sam is hooked on making movies, already possessing of an innate cinematic eye.  Fast-forward a decade and teenage Sam is a prodigious young director, creating westerns and war films with his Boy Scout troop.  But his left-brained father Burt thinks he should abandon his "hobby" and focus on starting a real career, while his mother Mitzi becomes visibly unhappy in their marriage and is drawn instead to Burt's best friend Bennie.  Sam finds himself caught in the middle, using filmmaking as a way to avoid dealing with personal conflicts.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Women Talking (2022)

Still playing catch-up with this year's Best Picture nominees, so here's another Oscar Film Journal entry for ya!

This time it's the true-story-inspired Women Talking, written and directed by Sarah Polley (now an Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay), and starring a host of accomplished actresses including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and in what is essentially a cameo, Frances McDormand.  The film is based on a novel by Miriam Toews, which was inspired by a real-life incident that took place in Bolivia.  It seems there was a colony of Mennonites wherein a hundred-or-so women and girls were drugged and raped by several of their male co-habitants, and when the perpetrators were finally caught, a handful of the victims met to decide what their next course of action should be.  The novel (and film) are a fictionalized version of those meetings.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Welcome to a special day-after entry in the Oscar Film Journal!

Well the 95th Academy Awards are in the history books, and as expected one film dominated the show, winning seven out of eleven trophies and becoming only the third movie to take home three Oscars for acting (the previous two being A Streetcar Named Desire and Network).  That film is Everything Everywhere All at Once, written and directed by Daniel Kwan (Westborough MA represent!) and Daniel Scheinert, a pair of Emerson College alumni who got their start in music videos and broke into feature films with 2016's Swiss Army Man.  I caught EEAAO in the theater when it came out last spring but inexplicably couldn't formulate a proper review of it.  I enjoyed it on the first viewing but at the same time felt sort of bombarded by it all (I mean it is right there in the title).  It was an unquestionably original and unabashedly creative premise, held together by some pretty great performances, but aside from that I wasn't really sure how to review or rate it.

Well this past weekend in prep for the Oscars I gave it another look (My wife hadn't seen it at all yet and by the end was moved to gushing, sobbing tears), and this time I liked it a lot more and found it profoundly moving.  Like so many films that throw a lot at you "all at once," this one really demands multiple spins to fully process it all.  Yet, almost paradoxically, in the end it's really about very simple, very relatable themes (particularly for those of us who are both someone's child AND someone's parent).

Friday, March 10, 2023

95th Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

This Sunday it's the 95th Annual Academy Awards, and my associate Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) are back to offer our preview and predictions.  Mike is probably gonna sweep these damn things yet again and I'll just end up getting upset, but we're gonna do this anyway.

I'm in the exact same position I was at this time last year, having seen half of the Best Picture nominees and hoping to bang out a couple more over the weekend before the show.  The five I've seen have ranged from stunningly great to "Why the fuck is this movie even nominated?" (You know which one you are Maverick....)  

This disturbing trend where the Academy is obligated to include at least one or two popcorn movies just to attract a bigger Nielsen rating feels like straight-up pandering to me, not to mention they always give the award to one of the smaller films anyway.  And they didn't even include the one popcorn movie from 2022 that actually deserves to be there (Had The Batman actually crossed the billion-dollar mark you know goddamn well they would have).  Fortunately I don't think any of the three fluff movies have a snowball's chance in Hell of winning Best Picture.  But it just feels wrong to have to refer to the Top Gun remake sequel or the reeeeeally delayed Avatar followup as a Best Picture nominee.  Hollywood's been churning out too many remakes and sequels and reboots and prequels and spinoffs and requels as it is, do they really need to win awards for it?

Ok enough old-man sky-yelling, let's pick some winners!

Best Picture

Avatar: The Way of Water
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Fabelmans
Triangle of Sadness
Women Talking

Justin: Alright, I've seen All Quiet which was amazing, Banshees which was pretty great, Elvis which was pedestrian despite a really strong lead performance, EEAAO which was fun and original, and Top Gun which was paint-by-numbers shite despite really impressive flight sequences.  Of those five my favorite was All Quiet; just a beautifully made, harrowing, immersive war film.  But that's all moot, because Everything Everywhere All at Once is a mortal lock to take this award and probably most of the awards it's nominated for.  That movie is on fire right now, and I'm not even mad.  It wasn't my favorite of the field but it was imaginative as hell, and that should be rewarded.  Not to mention one of its directors, Daniel Kwan, is from my hometown of Westborough, MA.  REPRESENT!!!

PickEverything Everywhere All at Once

Mike: I’ll forgive the insolence in your tone,  Top Gun: Maverick is really well positioned to get the upset. The action laced with dramatic overtones and a splash of nostalgia, not to mention the outstanding performances that will literally take your breath away while in the danger zone, makes it such a considerable film. How do you go against it?

Pick: Kidding. Everything Everywhere All At Once for sure.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Full Monty (1997)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at!

This year's awards are just days away and as always I'm behind on the current nominees (five outta ten in the bag), so naturally I'm wasting time looking at old nominees.  

Case in point, the 1997 dramedy The Full Monty, about a gaggle of unemployed steelworkers in Sheffield, England who get the kooky idea to become male strippers.  In doing so they reckon they'll carve out a cushy living, while also gaining self-confidence and an offbeat sense of respect about town.  The film stars Robert Carlyle as Gaz, the mastermind behind the whole plan, who's desperate to come up with child support back payments so his ex-wife doesn't take away custody of their son Nathan.  Gaz's best friend Dave (Mark Addy, in the film's strongest performance) is rather portly and so down on himself, both in terms of his job prospects and his physical state, that he can hardly bear to be touched by his wife Jean.  The pair pester their old factory foreman Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) - a dance instructor on the side - to help them put together choreography for their burlesque show, and while dismissive at first, Gerald finds solace and self-worth in their budding friendship.  Meanwhile they audition other fellas around town to join the act, becoming a sextet of misfits who generate a buzz by promising to do what the professional Chippendales dancers won't: take it ALL off.

Monday, March 6, 2023

AEW Revolution 2023: Bryan Danielson is the GOAT

Holy jumpin' Jeezus what a show AEW Revolution was....

At a time when the company is struggling to regain the momentum they had in late 2021/early 2022, AEW desperately needed a buzz-generating hit of a PPV, and by god they gave us one.  Revolution 2023 featured not one, but two Match of the Year candidates, plus a few other four-star efforts.  Maybe even more importantly for the long-term, the emphasis was squarely on making the young homegrown talent look like major stars, most of them getting big, decisive wins up and down the card.

After a fun little trios match on the pre-show (I reckon Mark Briscoe and the Lucha Brothers should be in line for an AEW Trios Title match soon), the main card kicked off with Chris Jericho vs. Ricky Starks.  This very good opening bout saw Jericho go after Starks' injured ribs and stay one step ahead of his young opponent's signature offense.  Jericho countered a spear attempt with a Codebreaker for a nearfall, and foiled an early Rochambeau attempt.  Starks finally hit a spear but Jericho locked him in the Walls of Jericho, which Starks then countered into a single-leg crab.  Despite the JAS being banned from ringside, Sammy Guevara nonetheless attempted to interfere but was tackled immediately by Action Andretti.  Jericho used his baseball bat during the ref distraction and got a close nearfall, but Starks blocked the Judas Effect and hit Rochambeau for the clean win.  A very well-worked opening match with the right result set the tone for the show.  ****

Thursday, March 2, 2023

AEW Revolution 2023 Preview & Predictions

It feels like Full Gear 2022 was eons ago, doesn't it?  Welp, the wait for AEW's next PPV is finally over, this Sunday it's time for a Revolution!

As of this writing we have a lean eight-match lineup, due of course to the fact that the main event of this show will go 60 minutes.  Iron Man matches are always a challenge, as the average person usually doesn't have the attention span for a match that's guaranteed to go the full hour.  It's different when you have a regular match that just happens to go that long - there's suspense over how and when it will end - but when the format is inherently designed to go a certain length a lot of people tend to tune out till the final stretch.  That's certainly been the case when Iron Man matches are broadcast on free TV, the ratings always seem to suffer for most of it.  But hopefully the promise of an epic pro wrestling match featuring one of the best pro wrestlers to ever do it will draw people in, not to mention the promo work from both guys has been stellar.  Even aside from Danielson vs. MJF though, there's a pretty loaded undercard with a couple potential show stealers.  Let's take a look....

AEW World Tag Team Championship: The Gunns vs. The Acclaimed vs. Triple J vs. Orange Cassidy & Danhausen

This match is just....odd.  I figured when the Gunns won/stole the tag belts we'd just see a straight-up rematch with The Acclaimed to give them another big title win, but then AEW booked the two battle royals (neither of which was particularly good) to determine two additional challengers.  And oddly teams like Top Flight and Lucha Bros weren't the winners, when this match really could've used teams of that caliber.  I'm really not sure why Jeff Jarrett keeps getting PPV matches; this guy must be the world's greatest self-promoter because he's on the show every week despite never being someone who moves the needle.  Anyway it's nice to see Cassidy getting so much screen time of late as he's super over and a really great worker.  Also, Danhausen is making his AEW PPV debut!  This match should be fine, an enjoyable clusterfuck, and I assume Caster and Bowens will win back their titles, as it was way too soon for them to lose them.  

Pick: The Acclaimed

Chris Jericho vs. Ricky Starks

It's a rematch between the aging superstar and the plucky babyface up-and-comer.  These two had a fine match on Dynamite in January and should be able to top that on this larger stage.  JAS is barred from ringside for this match but I wonder if Jericho has another friend who might run in for the assist.  They did do an angle last night where JAS beat up Ricky ahead of this match, maybe that was Jericho's big swerve after agreeing to the stips here.  Regardless I think Ricky winning is the move unless they have some debut planned to set up a rubber match.

Pick: Ricky

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Time to set the wayback machine for the early 1930s in this installment of Oscar Film Journal, here at!

The Great Depression: one of the darkest periods in American history, when millions were suddenly left in poverty, jobs were scarce, everyday necessities became luxuries, and many were forced to resort to extralegal measures to survive.  And as in Dickensian England, some who weren't lucky enough to escape the consequences would face a Draconian penal system that chewed up and spat out its victims, often leaving them worse off once their debt to society was paid.

Such is the subject of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, the Mervyn Leroy-directed Best Picture nominee from 1932, starring Paul Muni as just such a poor sap.  Chain Gang was adapted from an autobiographical work by war vet-turned-convict-turned-activist Robert Elliott Burns, who found holding down a job near impossible after serving in World War I thanks to his severe shellshock.  Burns became a drifter and was duped into helping rob a grocery store, for which he was sentenced to ten years on a Georgia chain gang, subjected to cruel labor conditions, malnutrition, and physical and mental torture.  Burns escaped, fled to Chicago, and became a successful magazine editor, only to be apprehended some years later and returned to the chain gang system.  He escaped again but was unable to find steady work due to the Depression, and then found new success telling his story and raising public awareness of the appalling conditions prisoners like him were forced to endure.  Burns was fortunate enough to have built such a high profile he'd finally earn a commuted sentence, and never returned to prison again.