Tuesday, May 30, 2023

AEW Double or Nothing 2023: Exploding Superkick!

Well as expected AEW's Double or Nothing 2023 wasn't the instant classic this year's Revolution was, but contrary to some of the hyperbolic reviews I've been hearing about it was still a pretty darn good show, boosted by a pair of excellent main events.

After a forgettable pre-show trios match that saw the Hardys and Hook decisively put away Ethan Page (and hopefully this neverending feud), the proper PPV kicked off with the Blackjack Battle Royal for the International Championship.  21 participants made their entrances during the Buy-In, but they gradually filtered into the actual ring.  This was an odd choice but it did allow for the action to be more intricate and dynamic.  Swerve Strickland and Brian Cage in particular stalled for a long time before finally entering the match.  Like a good battle royal should, this match featured nonstop action AND furthered numerous feuds; Ricky Starks interacted quite a bit with Jay White and Juice Robinson, eventually eliminating them both before they returned the favor; Swerve and Keith Lee finally went at it in an official match, with Swerve getting the better of his former tag partner.  Big Bill got plenty of time to shine, making it all the way to the final four.  Ultimately the match came down to Orange Cassidy and Swerve, and they got an extended sequence a la Shawn vs. Taker in the 2007 Royal Rumble, with tons of false finishes and near-eliminations.  Both men ended up on the ring apron and exchanged moves, but it was a lazy kick to Swerve's hand that broke his hold on the top rope and sent him crashing to the floor.  Cassidy retained in another great performance.  This was one of the company's best battle royals to date.  ****

Not faring nearly so well was the Adam Cole-Chris Jericho unsanctioned match, which felt lethargic and lacked the urgency it needed.  The two of them worked hard but somehow the match never got out of second gear after the initial burst of gang violence, and the crowd was pretty much ice cold throughout (The Vegas fans were uncharacteristically subdued for a lot of this show).  Not helping matters was the finish, which involved Cole mounting Jericho and raining down rather soft-looking punches before referee Aubrey Edwards stopped the fight (This was the same finish as Jericho vs. Shawn from 2008).  The one thing that made this look better was Jericho's eye, which had been busted open with a chain earlier in the match.  But the crowd hated the finish and actually booed it despite the babyface going over.  This match was always going to have an uphill battle being on the same card as the later Anarchy bout which it was obviously designed not to upstage, but it just didn't click for me.  **1/4

The History of NJPW Dominion (2013)

We've entered the Bullet Club era!

BodyMaker Colosseum - 6.22.13

New Japan was firing on all cylinders in 2013, with an incredible slew of big PPVs plus an awesome G1 tournament, and Dominion was no exception.  The company had found its second Ace in Kazuchika Okada, who now enjoyed a lengthy second IWGP Title reign, but a brand new stable was creating a huge buzz and would take the puroresu world by storm.  Jr. Heavyweight babyface Prince Devitt had turned on his Apollo 55 partner Taguchi and formed Bullet Club, a foursome consisting of gaijin wrestlers that also included Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson (by year's end The Young Bucks and Doc Gallows would be added to the group).  Bullet Club usurped Chaos as the most notorious heel stable and would assert their dominance over the next several years.  But the first top for Devitt was NJPW's Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi!

But first the undercard...

The opener featured the burgeoning Jr. Tag division, as Forever Hooligans defended the championship against Time Splitters.  Alex Kozlov began the proceedings by singing the Russian anthem, and all I have to say is Kozlov is no Nikolai Volkoff.  The match started with Alex Shelley putting on a grappling clinic against Kozlov, making use of European style wrestling to control the action.  Soon Kushida and Romero tagged in and provided the wild, fast-paced Jr. moves.  After a skirmish on the outside involving the railing, the heels took over and worked Shelley while Kushida was down, repeatedly cutting off the tag attempts.  Finally Kushida got the hot tag in and cleaned house.  Romero blocked a Time Splitter attempt and nearly won with a small package, then Kozlov came back in and the Hooligans hit their Demolition-style finisher on Kushida for a nearfall.  Time Splitters hit their signature sequence of chain moves, but the Hooligans nailed Kushida with a Torture Rack/flying knee combination to retain the belts.  This was a very fun Jr. tag bout that would soon become the standard match type for New Japan PPV openers.  ***1/2

The next available match on NJPW World (they're missing the Bullet Club-Nagata/Honma/Captin NJ six-man for some reason) is a triple threat IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title match, with champions Tencozy vs. Toru Yano & Iizuka vs. Killer Elite Squad.  KES attacked Tencozy at the bell and dominated both teams during the opening stretch, but Chaos took the fight outside, taping Archer and Davey to the railing and going to work on Tencozy.  After a few minutes KES broke free and had back and forth exchanges with Tencozy.  KES hit their double powerbomb on Yano but the referee had been bumped and there was no pin.  Tencozy hit their Tencozy Cutter on Archer for a nearfall before Kojima lariated the crap out of him to get the pin.  This was mildly fun and chaotic, but a bit tedious at times.  **1/2

Next up was the NWA Championship, with Manabu Nakanishi challenging Rob Conway.  This match was fun after a few minutes when Nakanishi made a comeback, but pretty dull when Conway was in control.  After hitting a dive to the outside, Nakanishi leveled Conway with a lariat and a spear, and slapped on the Torture Rack, but Conway escaped.  Nakanishi went to the top rope but Bruce Tharpe distracted him, allowing Conway to use his Ego Trip neckbreaker for the win.  This was mediocre.  **

Friday, May 26, 2023

The History of NJPW Dominion (2012)

In 2012 Dominion begins to feel like the company's second-biggest show of the year.....

Osaka BodyMaker Colosseum - 6.16.12

The 2012 Dominion show was a very solid PPV headlined by the company's big new drawing card, the Hiroshi Tanahashi-Kazuchika Okada feud.  Tanahashi had carried the company on his back for five years already, dragging them out of their financial doldrums, but up until this point he hadn't yet faced a definitive opponent, the Rock to his Steve Austin.  That opponent finally arrived in 2012, in the personage of Okada, a prodigiously gifted 24-year-old who had shockingly dethroned Tana at that year's New Beginning and announced himself as New Japan's future centerpiece.  This edition of Dominion would center around the highly anticipated rematch, while the rest of the card would showcase the company's growing roster of supporting characters.

The opening six-man tag featured an insane amount of talent, as the DDT promotion's hottest stars crashed the party.  Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega and Daisuka Sasaki faced Prince Devitt, Bushi and Kushida.  Ibushi and Devitt kicked off this incredibly athletic contest with mat-based grappling before tagging in Sasuke and Kushida, who demonstrated their impossibly quick Jr. style, and then Omega and Bushi paired off to hit the big crowd-pleasing moves.  This match got plenty of time for an opener and built to some spectacular moves and counters.  It boiled down to Ibushi and Bushi; the latter hit a top rope Spanish Fly but fell victim to Ibushi's Last Ride for the pin.  This was a super-fun opener with tons of Jr. Heavyweight action.  ***1/2

Another six-man tag followed, with a totally different style of wrestling, as Tomohiro Ishii led Chaos partners Yoshi-Hashi and Rocky Romero against Yuji Nagata, Wataru Inoue and Captain New Japan.  Ishii and Nagata began and largely closed this match, with awesome stiff back-and-forth fighting.  Inoue got a few moments to shine as well, at one pointing leveling Yoshi and Romero with a double rolling spear, but then Chaos got the advantage and Rocky and Yoshi had an amusing moment, arguing over taking turns with Rocky's signature corner clotheslines.  Finally Captain New Japan tagged in and controlled the match for a bit, but while holding Ishii for a Nagata lariat, Ishii ducked and Nagata nailed the Cap.  Ishii then hit his brain buster for the win.  Ishii and Nagata continued fighting after the bell and had to be separated.  Also a fun little match.  **3/4

Third up was Taichi & Taka Michinoku vs. Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask IV.  This started out with mucho stalling from the heels, who spent the first half cheating and double-teaming both masked opponents.  Taichi tried on numerous occasions to unmask Liger, and after a ref bump Taichi used a chair and started tearing off pieces of Liger's headgear.  But Liger had prepped for this, revealing that his face was heavily painted beneath the mask, and red-misted both Taichi and Taka before powerbombing Taichi through a table.  Tiger Mask then hit the tiger suplex for the win and presented Liger with a new mask after the bell.  This was chaotic but entertaining.  **1/2

Thursday, May 25, 2023

AEW Double or Nothing 2023 Preview & Predictions

This Sunday it's AEW's fifth(!!!!) edition of Double or Nothing!  Hard to believe this company has already completed high school....

Well it's been a tumultuous few months in the land of the Elite, with ups and downs and ups and downs.  On one hand they've amassed one of the largest crowds in wrestling history for their upcoming All In spectacular at Wembley Stadium (without a single match having been announced, mind you).  On the other hand their domestic ticket sales, including for this PPV, have been struggling.  One one hand they announced a second two-hour weekly show in Collision, centered around the returning CM Punk, on the other, the relationship between AEW and Punk continues to be one of hurdles and strained communication.  We'll see how that all plays out; my wife for one has set the over-under for Punk in AEW at one year, meaning he won't be used on television anymore by then.  I'm hoping for the best of course, but Phil's track record of remaining drama-free since All Out hasn't been great.

But enough about that, let's look at this lineup, which as usual is very strong on paper.  Not the strongest card they've ever assembled but there's plenty here to be excited for and this show should deliver some great matches as AEW's PPVs always do.

AEW Trios Championship: House of Black vs. The Acclaimed/Billy Gunn (presumed)

This hasn't been officially announced yet but they've been teasing it for weeks and I'd be surprised if they left it off the show.  House of Black is pretty much being booked just as I said they should be, as a dominant group of monster heels that doesn't need to cheat to win, hence they crush all competition like monster babyfaces.  A modern-day trio of Road Warriors essentially.  The Acclaimed are a good, over, fan favorite team to challenge them here and put up a really good fight with tons of hope spots.  But in the end HOB will retain, and should continue to do so for a good long while.

Pick: House of Black retains

Matt & Jeff Hardy/Hook vs. Ethan Page/The Gunns

I'd be fine if they bumped this one to the pre-show; not much going on here for me.  I do like the addition of Hook to Team Hardy though, and Jeff is still a star so I get why they felt the need to add him to the lineup.  I'm glad this is a nice easy match type for him - keep Jeff away from ladders and tables for the rest of his career.  Page and The Firm are unfortunately not a hot act at all right now; I'm not sure what they need to be seen as a threat again.  They split that group from MJF pretty damn quick.  Anyway this is really a showcase for the reunited Hardys and Hook, who should be moved into a title program very soon.  Kid's over and has the goods.

Pick: Hardys & Hook

The History of NJPW Dominion (2011)

The Tanahashi Magic Train keeps rollin' on and this would be the final Dominion powered exclusively by The Ace.

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium - 6.18.11

**NOTE: NJPW World is missing three matches from this show: Koji Kanemoto-Hiromu Takahashi, the Kendrick/Gedo/Jado-Liger/Kushida/Tiger Mask six-man, and the Tenza/Seigigun-Ishii/Tanaka/Iizuka six-man.  Their combined running time is a shade under 21 minutes though, so I get the feeling I wasn't missing anything essential.**

Dominion 2011 was for me kind of a middling show with a couple standouts.  There wasn't anything bad, but most of the card fell into the 2s and 3s for me.  NJPW was still running on high-octane Tanahashi fuel but the Jr. division also featured some of the best talent in the company.  One thing I found odd about these first three Dominions is that Chaos was the top heel stable but wasn't being featured much in title matches.  And strangely absent from this show altogether was Chaos's leader, Shinsuke Nakamura.  This show could've used his presence for sure.

The first match available on New Japan World was Ryusuke Taguchi vs Mascara Dorada for the CMLL Welterweight Title.  This bout started off somewhat methodically with some initial feeling out but both guys pretty quickly brought out the top rope dives.  Dorada nearly killed himself on a botched second-rope springboard, when his foot caught the top rope causing him to under-rotate; the back of his head hit the apron on the way down and it looked like he hyperextended his knee on the floor.  Miraculously he was able to continue, attempting the same move moments later and nailing it, much to the crowd's delight.  The second half of the match had some good lucha-style exchanges, leading to a series of traded victory rolls with Dorada holding one long enough for the three-count.  This match was solid but too short to be much more.  **3/4

Skipping ahead to the fifth match of the night, former No Limit tag partners Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro Takahashi locked horns in a match that started out very heated but settled into an oddly slow pace for a grudge match.  Naito top-rope dropkicked Takahashi at the bell and followed it up outside with a running dropkick on the ramp.  Back in the ring Takahashi took over for a long stretch that was fine but a bit tedious at times.  One thing was evident from this match though - Tetsuya Naito has seemingly always had a recklessness about landing on his head.  Three times during this match he would do a running dive or a flipping bump and just barely avoid breaking his neck.  Late in the match he also took a high-angle Olympic slam that looked crippling.  After about eleven minutes Takahashi won with a Dominator.  This was decent but I expected more given the nature of their feud.  From this match it's clear why Naito became a huge star and Takahashi did not.  *** 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The History of NJPW Dominion (2010)

Welcome to our second installment of NJPW Dominion History, here at Enuffa.com!

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium - 6.9.10

Dominion returned to Osaka in 2010 with another solid if not stacked show, with some frankly odd star placements.  Manabu Nakanishi for example, who headlined Dominion 2009 as the IWGP Champion, showed up here in the second match of the night with five other dudes.  Shinsuke Nakamura, another former IWGP Champ, was billed fourth from the bottom in a brief MMA-infused fight with Daniel Puder of all people.  And Tanahashi, the company's golden goose was in the hair vs. hair semi-main event instead of contending for the strap.  Some strange choices to be sure, but the show itself managed to be very watchable and a few bouts were pleasantly surprising.

The 2010 edition opened with one of two six-man tags, with Akira, El Samurai and Koji Kanemoto squaring off against Ryusuke Taguchi, Super Strong Machine and baby Tama Tonga (sporting short hair and a clean-shaven look)! This was not much of a match, running under nine minutes and not featuring a lot of memorable action. El Samurai pinned Tonga with an abdominal stretch rollup thingy.  Moving on.  *1/2

The second six-man was a little better but still just sorta there, as Chaos members Tomohiro Ishii, Iizuka and Gedo faced Manabu Nakanishi, Mitsuhide Hirasawa and a blond-haired Kushida.  There was a big brawl before the bell to kick things off, climaxing in Kushida and Nakanishi dives over the ropes.  Then the match settled into the heels getting heat on Hirasawa after hitting him with chairshots outside.  Eventually Nakanishi tagged in for some big power moves, Kushida and Gedo did some fun Jr. exchanges, and Iizuka distracted the referee while Gedo nailed Kushida with a kendo stick.  Iizuka then choked Kushida out for the win.  Another forgettable affair.  *3/4

The good stuff started next, as Tomaki Honma vaced Muhammed Yone in a solid, super stiff contest.  We got tons of brutal chops, forearm shots and running lariats over the bout's nine minutes and finally Honma hit his big top rope headbutt for a near fall but Yone came back and delivered a muscle buster for the win.  Not too shabby, this one.  **3/4

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: How the West Was Won (1962)

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

It's been a little while, as I took a break after this year's awards ceremony, but the warmer weather put me in the mood for a good ol' Western, in this case the Cinerama extravaganza How the West Was Won!  

One of only two dramatic features shot in the immersive three-camera format, HTWWW is an anthology piece inspired by a series of articles in Life Magazine, and boasting a who's-who of Hollywood stars from the 40s and 50s.  James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Karl Malden, Walter Brennan, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston, George Peppard, Harry Morgan, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Eli Wallach, and narration by Spencer Tracy.  The film covers the early pioneer days through the Old West, depicting the American Expansion period through the eyes of a family of characters, each of the five segments taking place during a particular era.  Each chapter also takes great advantage of the Cinerama format by including an action-oriented set piece that plunges the viewer into the story.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The History of NJPW Dominion (2009)

Oh yes, oh yes, the wrestling-obsessed weirdo is back with another PPV History series, here at Enuffa.com!  This time we'll be looking at the decade-long lineage of NJPW's second-biggest PPV of the year, Dominion!

Set the way-back machine for 2009, when New Japan Pro-Wrestling was still in serious rebuilding mode, having weathered the lull of the early 2000s.  They'd hitched their wagon to a dynamic young performer named Hiroshi Tanahashi, and his gargantuan charisma, coupled with his incredible knack for in-ring storytelling, almost singlehandedly lifted NJPW out of its financial woes.  At this point Tanahashi was head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the company, but numerous young stars were being groomed for big things and by 2009 a few were starting to nip at Tana's heels.  The modern New Japan product as we know it was taking shape, with a combination of native stars and talented gaijin, and only a few years later it would start to blow everyone else out of the water from a creative standpoint.  So sit back and let's take a stroll through recent New Japan lore....

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium - 6.20.09

Things kicked off with a solid little opener, as Jushin Thunder Liger and Akira faced Koji Kanemoto and a young lion named Nobuo Yoshihashi. Everyone worked hard in the seven-or-so minutes alotted. Finally Yoshi-Hashi ate a top rope splash from Akira for the pin.  Shockingly little from Liger in this match.  Not terribly memorable but decent.  **1/4

Next up was Takao Omori and Yutaka Yoshie vs. Mitsuhide Hirasawa and Super Strong Machine.  This was another short match, only five-and-a-half minutes, but it was full of action. Yoshie at 300+ pounds got to show off his deceptive agility.  The match ended with Omori hitting a running STO on Hirasawa. Nothing special here, but this was well worked.  **

The first really noteworthy match was third, as Apollo 55 faced Taichi and Milano Collection AT for a Jr. Heavyweight Tag Title shot.  These guys cut a crazy fast pace for the first few minutes, then Taichi and Milano slowed it down to work over Taguchi.  After the eventual hot tag to Devitt we got a crazy series of big moves and nearfalls, including an outside-the-ring Doomsday Device cross body on Taichi, a Devitt double stomp for a near fall, and a big Tower of Doom spot.  Finally Taguchi pinned Taichi after a (surprisingly safe-looking) vertebreaker and chicken wing face buster.  One thing really struck me about this match: Taichi used to be a worker!  When did that change?  Anyway this was a damn good match.  ***3/4

Friday, May 19, 2023

Top Ten Things: Doors Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things here at Enuffa.com!  Today we're talkin' about one of the most legendary rock bands of all time, the psychadelic quartet from southern California who emerged in the late 60s with a unique sound, poetically contemplative lyrics, and one of the best, most charismatic front men to ever hold a microphone.  It's the ten best songs by The Doors!

I first got into The Doors mostly thanks to the 1991 Oliver Stone biopic; I had been familiar with a couple of their well-known songs but never really took the time to sit down for a thorough listen until after seeing Val Kilmer's force-of-nature performance as the troubled rock crooner.  After seeing the film I went out and bought the double Best Of album, maybe the best compilation of any band's greatest hits.  Instead of simply being assembled in chronological order the song sequence has a flow to it.  Anyway I listened to that album ad nauseum for years and only within the past decade did I familiarize myself with the rest of the Doors' catalog.  This was a thinking man's rock band with a diverse set of influences that, despite its fairly short run, left an indelible mark on the music industry, inspiring generations of artists and musicans.

Here are, in my estimation, the ten greatest Doors songs....

10. People Are Strange

I first heard this song in cover form in the movie The Lost Boys, courtesy of Echo & The Bunnymen.  I was drawn in right away by the bouncy feel, the honkytonk piano, and the soulful vocals.  It wasn't until a few years later that I heard the original, but "People Are Strange" remains one of my favorite Doors tunes for the reasons above.  Its theme of being an outsider, a stranger in a strange land, sum up Jim Morrison's personality pretty well I think.  He marched to the beat of his own drum and music was his outlet in dealing with loneliness.  The gang vocals in the final chorus seem to illustrate the idea of other outsiders finding solace in each other, unifying to take on the world.

9. Tell All the People

The Soft Parade might be my second-favorite Doors album, after the self-titled one.  It's just such a weird left turn, with the addition of strings and horns on nearly every song and major stylistic departures from the band's trademark sound.  Case in point the opener, "Tell All the People," a symphonic rock anthem with dense horn kicks and vocal harmonies (a rarity for a Doors tune).  This song sets the tone perfectly for an album that goes into very unexpected places and shows a band experimenting like crazy.

8. The Unknown Soldier

Jim Morrison's sound poem about the Vietnam War and its round-the-clock news coverage, "The Unknown Soldier" features drastic dynamic changes and unusual sound effects to create a grim atmosphere.  The song goes from sullen eulogy to midtempo rocker to military march to double-time climax.  This is one of the band's most redolent and atpyical tunes. 

7. The Soft Parade

But the title track off the fourth album has to be their strangest song of all.  "The Soft Parade" is an 8-minute, multi-section suite that's all over the place musically (Is that a harpsichord??) and features Morrison's most bizarre lyrics.  Like John Lennon did with "I Am the Walrus," Morrison seems to simply be playing with words that conjure weird imagery, the songwriting equivalent of Salvador Dali ("Catacombs/Nursery bones/Winter women growing stones").  This epic track is the perfect summation for The Doors' most adventurous album.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Top Ten Things: Marx Brothers Films

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com, where I talk about things.  Ten things.  The top ten things.  See?

Today what's on my brain is the Marx Brothers.  You know 'em, you love 'em.  Groucho!  Chico!  Harpo!  Zeppo (sometimes)!  Born Julius, Leonard, Adolph (later Arthur), and Herbert, the Marxes (along with a fifth brother Gummo) honed their craft for years on the Vaudeville circuit before gaining notoriety with three Broadway hits, and from there they swept the nation as movie stars.  Boasting incredible onscreen chemistry fueled by Groucho's unparalleled wit, Chico's hilariously sleazy Italian con man persona, and Harpo's astonishing gift for pantomime, the Marx Brothers left an indelible mark on both cinema and comedy, with a 15-year film career that spawned numerous timeless classics.

Here are the Marx Brothers' ten best films, according to me....

10. The Big Store

The Marxes' intended final film was this 1941 farce set in a department store whose co-owner has hired private detectives (Groucho, Harpo & Chico) to investigate a plot by the store manager to murder her nephew.  It lacks the urgency and inventiveness of their prime years but does include its share of silly set pieces one would expect from a Marx Brothers movie.  The Marxes would come out of retirement to make A Night in Casablanca in 1947 (after Chico revealed he owed large gambling debts), but The Big Store was billed as their swan song.

9. Room Service

Based on a 1937 play, Room Service was the only Marx film not written specifically for the brothers.  It concerns a stage producer and his ragtag crew going to any lengths necessary not to be evicted from their hotel room before their play's opening performance, and while fairly screwball, features the Marx Brothers at their most restrained.  This was also the first Marx film to abandon the traditional character relationships between Groucho, Harpo and Chico.  In this film Harpo and Chico's characters work for Groucho and the three are in cahoots from the start; in this respect as much as any other, Room Service doesn't quite feel like a Marx film, but it does at least feature a little of their trademark onscreen mischief.

8. Monkey Business

The first Marx film not based on a play was their third overall, about four stowaways who run amok on a cruise ship and fall in with two separate warring gangs.  Monkey Business is a rather odd film, in that a story arc is put into place but multiple threads are left unresolved, such as the protagonists evading the authorities, Groucho's romance with Thelma Todd's character, the aftermath of the kidnapping and rescue of Joe's daughter, etc.  Also notable about this film is the lack of musical numbers other than Chico and Harpo's instrumental solos.  Monkey Business is definitely my least favorite of the Paramount movies and I can't help wondering why they didn't instead make a film version of I'll Say She Is, particularly given the way they shoehorned in the Maurice Chevaille bit from that play.  Still this movie isn't without its charm.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

It's a rarity when the third part of a trilogy achieves the same level of greatness as the first and/or second, but James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy finale does just that, in some ways eclipsing aspects of his first two "volumes."  

For this third chapter, we catch up with our beloved gang of intergalactic misfits on their recently adopted homeworld of Knowhere (a makeshift space-city cobbled together inside the disembodied head of a god).  "Starlord" Peter Quill is still mourning the Endgame loss of Gamora, or at least the Gamora he knows and loves, as a past incarnation now exists in present day but of course remembers nothing of their relationship (The film has a lot of fun with this thread).  Suddenly Knowhere is attacked (out of....nowhere) by Adam Warlock, a genetic creation of the Sovereign (the prissy, easily offended golden folk from Guardians 2), who wreaks havoc on the city and nearly kills Rocket.  The Guardians are unable to use their "medpacks" to try and save his life, as they learn his heart contains a built-in killswitch activated by any attempt to heal it.  The team's primary mission is now to infiltrate the company that created Rocket and learn the override code so they can save him.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Followups

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I'll be talking about some slightly-hidden gems given the unenviable task of directly following WrestleMania.  Every year 'Mania seems to play out like a season finale of sorts, with long-running angles and feuds being resolved, and new stories beginning.  But with no off-season, WWE marches right on to the next PPV (formerly In Your House and Backlash, now Extreme Rules) and has to assemble a show that could easily come off as anticlimactic given its position on the PPV calendar.  Some years though, the 'Mania followup PPV has actually outclassed The Show of Shows and presented one or more Match of the Year candidates.  Backlash 1999 and 2000 for example were far and away superior to 'Mania 15 and 16 respectively.  Ditto for Extreme Rules 2011 and 2012.  Not so much for Payback 2017....

Here now are the Top Ten Matches from Post-WrestleMania PPVs.

10. The Shield vs. Evolution - Extreme Rules 2014

This dream match of sorts was a wild, action-packed example of faction warfare.  The Shield had recently turned against The Authority, and Triple H retaliated by reassembling his most accomplished stable, now consisting of three former WWE/World Champions.  Now I had hoped for an 8-man WarGames-style match including Daniel Bryan and Kane, and I still think WWE dropped the ball by not booking that match after it was so perfectly set up the night after WM30.  That said though, this six-man delivered huge and further established The Shield as the most dominant faction in years.

9. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar - Extreme Rules 2012

Brock Lesnar's WWE return was an absolutely huge deal.  After an eight-year hiatus Lesnar reappeared on RAW the night after WrestleMania 28 and left John Cena laying in a heap.  A No Holds Barred match was immediately signed for Extreme Rules, and would be the first signature "Brock Lesnar" match, where he employed both pro wrestling and MMA techniques to create a unique, big-fight atmosphere.  The match began with Lesnar brutally bloodying Cena with hard elbows to the forehead, marking the first WWE use of significant "color" in several years.  This groundbreaking fight showcased a dominant Lesnar performance until the very end, when Cena evened the playing field with a chain and got a shocking (and in retrospect terribly ill-advised) win over the returning Beast.  It took some time for WWE to properly use Lesnar during his post-UFC run (His record after one year back was 1-2!), but fortunately they soon remembered that Brock Lesnar is supposed to destroy everything in sight, and worked much harder to preserve his drawing power.

8. Mankind vs. Big Show - Backlash '99

After a tremendously disappointing first-time matchup at WrestleMania XV, Mankind and The Big Show redeemed themselves with this brutal Boiler Room Brawl.  The inaugural Backlash event one-upped 'Mania 15 in every way, and this match was everything the first encounter wasn't.  Mankind brought his typically high pain threshold, taking a brutal table spot and cutting his hand on a pane of glass before escaping the boiler room.  Not only did this match steal the show at Backlash '99 but I consider it the far better of the two Boiler Room Brawls.

7. Randy Orton vs. Cactus Jack - Backlash 2004

Another Foley classic, this time Mick donned the red & black flannel and trimmed way down to resurrect his original in-ring persona, Cactus Jack.  Randy Orton was just gaining traction as a future main event player, and Foley made sure he looked like a million bucks.  This outlandish, violent Street Fight featured barbed-wire bats, thumbtacks, falls off the stage, and buckets of blood.  The enduring image for me is of Orton taking a bump, barebacked, on a pile of thumbtacks.  Simply one of the most grisly moments I can recall in a wrestling match.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

WWE Backlash 2023 Preview & Predictions

Back to business as usual with WWE these days since Vince more or less forced himself back into power.  Yeah I know Triple H is officially running Creative still, but the 78-year-old boss is still tearing up scripts he doesn't like and rewriting shows on the fly, mostly with nonsensical results.  Oh, this Saturday is Backlash...

Imagine how monumental the big match on this show would be if WrestleMania had had the correct finish.  Instead it's just a match with nothing really at stake.  Good news though, Cody Rhodes now gets to go after WWE's THIRD World Title!  Yay!  As Jim Cornette (who I almost never agree with) said, "What sense does it make to say 'Our champion is so good no one can beat him, so let's just introduce a new title?'"  This reintroduction of the World Title is so unfathomably stupid I can't even wrap my brain around it.  Not only are they saying no one else in this company is in Roman's league, but they're also saying "Even though Roman isn't around enough and you all deserve a fighting champion, we aren't going to vacate the title due to inactivity or split the two existing belts up again, we'll just make ANOTHER belt for everyone else to fight over while Roman stays home."  Pure, unadulterated idiocy.  Added to which, the new belt is ugly.  I mean real ugly.  Rather than just resurrect one of the most beloved belt designs of all time, they bastardized it and slapped a giant, honkin' WWE logo in the middle of it.  Does every belt in this company need the logo to be the biggest object on it?  I know other companies do that too, but they do it with some tastefulness.  WWE is incapable of subtlety in design.

Alright enough bitching about the meaningless title, let's look at this card....

Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn/Matt Riddle vs. The Usos & Solo Sikoa

Pretty darn good six-man to kick things off here (I have no idea if this'll be first but it should be) and continue the Tag Title feud.  The crowd should be very hot for this and Riddle will benefit from being involved with two of the company's most popular babyfaces.  This being WWE I suspect 50-50 booking will apply.

Pick: Bloodline

Smackdown Women's Championship: Rhea Ripley vs. Zelina Vega

First off, why does WWE keep having the two women's champs switch places AND BELTS in the Draft?  So stupid.  Rhea is now going to be on RAW but she's listed as the SD Champion for now.  Second, Zelina??  Really?  That's who you came up with for a challenger?  Christ...  Rhea wins, obviously.

Pick: Rhea retains

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Top Ten Things: Metallica Songs (10-1)

Alright, here we go.  Metallica's Top 10 songs of all time.  The best of the best.  According to me anyway.....

10. Enter Sandman

Yeah I know, it's overplayed as shit.  It's everywhere.  You can't watch a single play in a football game without a snippet of this song blaring out afterwards.  It probably doesn't need to ever be on the radio again.  I don't care.  "Enter Sandman" is a fucking all-time great rock n' roll song.  From a simple tritone-based riff Kirk Hammett shat out at 3am one night, the band extrapolated an entire, world-changing song.  Think about it, "Sandman" is essentially the one riff, over and over, in various forms.  Yes there are little adornments and adjustments tacked on, but sweet Jesus did they get a lot of mileage out of very little content.  On top of its stunning economy of songwriting, this tune has one of the most instantly hooky choruses of the decade, some absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies (that sadly didn't get pushed high enough in the mix), and just an infectiously heavy midtempo groove.  And holy shitballs that guitar tone....  "Enter Sandman" is the song that launched Metallica into metal godhood, and if not their best song it has to be considered their most culturally significant.

9. Frantic

The one true classic from what is universally considered Metallica's worst album, "Frantic" is an absolute monster of a song that set the tone for the visceral, ugly psychotherapy session put to music that was St. Anger.  The main riff is a devlishly clever single-string line that, like the "Sandman" riff, was ripe for variation.  Move that same riff up a couple strings and arpeggiate it, and you have the chorus.  James' vocals capture the nu-metal aesthetic better on this song than on any of the album's other tracks, and also include one of my favorite Metallica lyrics (also courtesy of Kirk), "My lifestyle determines my death style."  Time eventually makes victims of us all, the one predator we can't outrun.  If every St. Anger song had this kind of raw, brutal energy I think the album would've been much better received.  Alas, "Frantic" was a sort of lightning in a bottle, the one piece of this bizarre experiment that worked unequivocally. 

NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2023 Preview & Predictions

Tomorrow is Wrestling Dontaku 2023, one of NJPW's lesser annual PPV-type shows, and as with most such shows it's comprised of about half important matches and half throwaway tags, so we'll just look at the main stuff.

There are a few promising bouts here, particularly the main event....

Strong Openweight Championship: Kenta vs. Hikuleo

Hikuleo is more or less fresh off running Jay White out of the country and it's landed him a shot at, ironically, one of the US-based championships.  Kenta won this title at Battle in the Valley and has only defended it twice.  I could see this going either way but I think Kenta needs to keep it for a while to help establish it.

Pick: Kenta retains

IWGP TV Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Jeff Cobb

This should be fantastic.  ZSJ and Cobb are always great, pretty much regardless of who their respective opponents are.  I could see Cobb capturing the title but it seems like ZSJ will hold onto it for a while to really make it feel special.  This one could even go to time limit.  He's the Lord Steven Regal of NJPW!  Possible show stealer right here.

Pick: ZSJ retains

Monday, May 1, 2023

Top Ten Things: Metallica Songs (20-11)

We're almost to the cream of the crop in the Metallica song catalog, here's the second tier of tunes!

20. Fade to Black

Metallica's first "ballad" appeared on their second album, and also marked the earliest accusations of the band "selling out."  Yes, how dare a metal band write something melodic??  The idea!  Anyway, "Fade to Black" was inspired by an incident in Boston where most of the band's gear was stolen after a show, prompting James to pen the song's depression-themed lyrics.  The song alternates between shimmery, chill-inducing 12-string acoustic guitars and Metallica's signature blazing electric sound, and features some of Kirk's most ambitious solos up to that point.  This still holds up as a classic.

19. Orion

Cliff Burton's most significant songwriting contribution came in the form of this sprawling instrumental, one that featured the prodigious 24-year-old's four-string chops more than any song since "Anesthesia."  Cliff made use of his extensive music theory knowledge to lend the song absolutely gorgeous guitar and bass harmonies, and stole the show near the end of the classical-tinged waltz section with a beautiful harmony-laden solo.  Hearing his work on this song makes his untimely death that much more tragic; imagine what else he could've contributed to the band if he'd had more time.  "Orion" is one of the great rock instrumentals and a unique accomplishment in the Metallica catalog.