Friday, September 29, 2023

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Alien 3

Welcome to another Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at, where I complain about someone else's hard work!

Today I'll be talking about one of my least favorite sequels ever, Alien 3!  Yup, it's gonna be a struggle to come up with many positives about this film, as I hate it.  HATE. IT.  But I wouldn't be telling the truth if I failed to talk about its good qualities.  Directed by the great David Fincher, Alien 3 is a stylish, exceedingly bleak sequel to the mega-popular thrill ride that was James Cameron's Aliens.  Picking up where that film left off, Alien 3 finds Ripley stranded on a penal planet populated by the worst criminals in the galaxy, when a stray alien breaks loose and starts butchering people by the dozen.  Ripley and the others must find a way, sans weapons, to kill the alien before a Weylan-Yutani supply ship arrives to bring the specimen back to Earth.  And, well, that's about it.  Nothing terribly complicated about this story, and the film was such a troubled production for the first-time director that Fincher long ago disowned the movie.  The studio began shooting without a completed script and questioned Fincher on nearly every creative idea, to the point that his intended cut was very different from the theatrical version (The "Assembly Cut" as it's called is widely considered superior to the latter, but I still don't like it).

But before I begin shredding this movie, let's take a look at what did work.....

The Awesome


Sigourney Weaver is back as Ellen Ripley of course, and she once again brings a sense of both empowerment and vulnerability to the role that made her famous.  She doesn't have quite the emotional arc here as she did in Aliens, but considering what she's given to work with she excels as always.  This film has a number of strong supporting performances as well, the two biggest standouts being the dignified and understated Charles Dance as Dr. Clemens, and Charles S. Dutton as the reformed murderer and spiritual leader of the prison, Dillon.  Add accomplished character actors such as Pete Postlethwaite and Brian Glover, and there's no shortage of convincing work on the acting front.

There are some fine thespians in this tripe movie.


As with all of his films, Fincher lent Alien 3 a distintive, stylish look, with filthy, gothic sets and a muted color pallette of yellows and browns.  The one area where this film surpasses Aliens for me is its unique visual style.  This is a gorgeously photographed movie from a young director already demonstrating his superior skill.  'Tis a shame the story didn't have more going on, as it's akin to a beautifully painted but mostly empty landscape.

There are also some fine visuals.

Effects (mostly)

Most of the special effects in Alien 3 still hold up, from the grotesquely sloppy chestburster scene to the amazingly lifelike Bishop head/torso, to the frightening closeups of the full-size alien.  The blood n' guts look first-rate, and aside from terrible compositing of the rod puppet used in wide shots (The puppet looks great, the blue screening looks like garbage), any xenophile should be satisfied with the effects.

And a boss-looking alien.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

AEW WrestleDream Preview & Predictions

This Sunday is AEW's first-ever WrestleDream PPV, set for October 1st to coincide with the 1st anniversary of Antonio Inoki's death, and once again the company has put together a stellar-looking lineup.  They may be struggling to sell tickets but holy jeez does this show look great on paper.

It's the first time an AEW PPV is emanating from Seattle, and somehow despite their top-three Seattle-native stars being heavily featured, only 5600-or-so tickets have moved for this show.  Hopefully they'll get a strong last-minute surge like they did for Grand Slam and end up with a respectable 10k.  Anyway this show by all rights should continue the streak of 9.5-or-better AEW PPVs that began with Forbidden Door.  I've rated two AEW shows 10/10 out of ten so far this year and I'd love to be able to do the same for WrestleDream.  But we'll just see, won't we?

Tony Khan has also promised this PPV will mark the end of an era, whatever that means.  ROH merging into AEW?  PPV streaming deal with Max?  Who knows?

ROH Tag Team Championship: MJF vs. The Righteous

Well, sadly Adam Cole somehow managed to shatter his ankle last week (That elevated ramp is evil) and will need surgery to fix it.  Thus what was meant to be a regular title defense is now a handicap match.  I'm wondering if the plan was originally Max & Adam vs. The Kingdom, and after Cole got hurt they called an audible to put The Righteous here instead, so Max could beat them 1-on-2; having a newcomer team lose to one guy isn't that big a deal, especially if the one guy is the champion.  Lots of questions surrounding this, like Will The Kingdom get involved? and Will Jay White make an appearance given it looks like Max had him attacked backstage?  Weird and unpredictable cliffhanger to end Dynamite on I'd say.  Anyway I'd book this match to be very short and have MJF win in delightfully underhanded fashion.  That way The Righteous aren't hurt much; they'll have lost due to cheating.

Pick: MJF retains

Ricky Starks vs. Wheeler Yuta

Ricky is coming off two excellent wars with Bryan Danielson and needs a get-back win, and Mr. Yuta will give him a fine contest.  Should be a very good undercard match to keep Starks' momentum going.

Pick: Ricky

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Hannibal

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at, where I examine a movie that I want so badly to fully enjoy, but like a crappy, unreliable boyfriend/girlfriend, it just won't get its shit together and commit.

Such a description is very fitting of the film Hannibal (2001), the much-anticipated sequel to the iconic Silence of the Lambs, which saw Anthony Hopkins return to the role that made him a gazillionaire, Hannibal Lecter.  Hannibal had been planned for several years, after Lambs author Thomas Harris announced he'd be writing a follow-up to the massive hit.  Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and director Jonathan Demme jumped right on board, and the world waited patiently while the novel came to fruition.  Unfortunately by the time of its publication in 1998, Demme declined to participate due to the novel's lurid tone, and Foster had already decided to direct her own film and would not be available.  The scramble was on to replace two of the three integral pieces of the puzzle, and eventually Ridley Scott was attached to direct, with Julianne Moore replacing Foster as Clarice Starling.

So why does this movie qualify as Awesomely Shitty?  In short, I find Hannibal a pretty infuriating example of a movie I was absolutely pumped for and ready to love, but so many things about it were executed just plain wrong.  And a few of these things could've been fixed so easily, either with a quick rewrite or an edit.  Before I get to all that negative stuff though, let's talk about what worked.

The Awesome

Julianne Moore

Excuse me for a moment.....JULIANNE, I F*CKIN' LOVE YOU!!

If Clarice had to be recast (and she did), I can't think of a better actress to inherit this amazing character than Julianne Moore.  I've been a big Juli-fanne (TM pending) for a few decades now, and so despite my reservations about Jodie Foster not returning I was pretty stoked to see Moore take the part.  Julianne is one of the most versatile and consistently great actresses working today, who for years was undeservedly snubbed by Oscar until finally taking home the gold in 2015.  Where Foster's Clarice was young and idealistic, Moore's incarnation of the character has become cynical and untrusting after a decade of petty FBI politics and unsavory treatment at the hands of the Old Boy Network.  Over ten years she has earned the dubious honor of having more kills to her name than any other Agent, and at the start of the film she is forced to shoot yet another suspect when the uncooperative DC police undermine her authority in a drug raid.  The Bureau uses this incident as an excuse to take her out of the field, and she's reassigned to the seemingly futile case of the long-disappeared Lecter.  Moore plays Clarice as a woman who once dreamed of being an FBI agent, only to later find that the Bureau doesn't share her virtuous nature and in many ways isn't worthy of having her.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Top Ten Things: Vampire Movies

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  Continuing with the Halloween festivities, today we'll count down what are in my estimation the ten greatest vampire films of all time.

Before Stephanie Meyer forever ruined the vampire genre by turning it into insipid teen melodrama involving beautiful undead emo heartthrobs (who despite not technically being alive can somehow procreate), there used to be quite a few excellent films devoted to the subject.

Being a vampire really isn't any fun when you think about it.  I explored this topic a little in my Awesomely Shitty Movies piece about The Lost Boys:

"It is possible to create complex, thought-provoking films about vampires, exploring at what cost such powers come: isolation, loneliness, unending bloodlust, tedium, having to live with murdering people, having to evade capture and prosecution for murdering people, etc."

The vampire, no matter how romantic a character you try to make him, is still at heart a repulsive, predatory creature who must kill human beings in order to survive.  Think of how awful his breath must be after drinking all that blood.  Imagine how filthy his clothes would be after sleeping in dirt every day.  Really, are the fringe benefits of being eternally young and having superhuman strength and speed worth all the other headaches? 

Anywho, here's my ten picks.

10. Near Dark (1987)

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow's second film was an unusual mashup of the vampire movie and the Western.  Starring Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein of Aliens fame, Near Dark tells the story of a gang of vampires who live in a sun-proofed van and drift from place to place, going where the food is.  One of their group, Mae, inadvertently turns a young man named Caleb into a vampire and because of her romantic attachment to him, persuades the others to accept him into their gang.  Caleb spends much of the movie struggling with his transformation and trying to appease the others so they don't kill him.  Near Dark is a very unusual and modern take on the genre, portraying the vamps as scavenging marauders not unlike the post-apocalyptic villains in the Mad Max films.  They are evil but charismatic, and Bill Paxton especially shines as the brutal loose cannon Severen.  With this film Bigelow showed her adeptness at eschewing the conventions of genre films and gave us an exciting new take on the vampire mythos.

9. Dracula (1979)

In the late 70s the well-renowned John Balderston-Hamilton Deane theater production of Dracula was revived in London and on Broadway, and its success prompted Universal Studios to remake the 1931 Bela Lugosi film for modern audiences.  The result was this stylish, romantic Frank Langella version.  Directed by John Badham and featuring an excellent score by John Williams, this update of Dracula depicts the Count as a suave, handsome seducer, to whom women willingly give their last drop.  Langella is excellent as this debonair demon, imbuing the character with both smoothness and a fearsome underlying rage.  The rest of the cast is also first-rate - the legendary Laurence Olivier plays Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, Kate Nelligan is an unusually strong and independent Lucy Seward (in this version Lucy and Mina's names are oddly swapped), and Tony Haygarth is a rather degenerate incarnation of the Renfield character.  This film is a triumph of production design and atmosphere, and a gritty, original take on the Lugosi version.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Lost Boys

Welcome back to for another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies!  

Today we'll be examining the brazenly tawdry late-80s time capsule known as The Lost Boys.  Before the Twilight movies forever ruined the vampire genre Joel Schumacher gave us teenage vampire garbage we could really sink our teeth into.  Teeth, get it??  Cuz vampires like to bite people?  With their teeth? 

Buckle up and set the DeLorean for 1987, the heyday of such screen legends as Corey Haim, Corey Feldman (what's with all the Coreys??), Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, and the one teen heartthrob from this era whose career escaped more or less unscathed, Kiefer Sutherland.

Originally The Lost Boys was to be a Peter Pan-inspired film about pre-adolescent vampires, stemming from the idea that Peter could fly and never grew old (Kiefer's character was originally called Peter, while the protagonist brothers were Michael and John, later to be Michael and Sam).  However when Schumacher came on board he decided teenage characters would be much more marketable/sexier.

The resulting film is delightfully "late-80s," from the costumes, to the heavy metal-influenced fashion sense of the teenage characters, to the awesomely dated soundtrack, to the southern California setting.  It's a quintessential 80s summer movie.  And it's fantastically dumb.

The Awesome

The Cast

This movie's got a pretty great cast, all perfectly suited to their roles.  Corey Haim, while never ascending to the heights of great acting, was exactly right for the main character of Sam.  Sam is the audience's guide through the story, usually in way over his head and scared shitless the whole time.  Jason Patric as his older brother Michael is the character with the real arc (he goes from brooding, sullen prettyboy to brooding, sullen vampire), and he's the one whose relationship with the villains sets things in motion.  Dianne Wiest is excellent as always, as their mother Lucy.  Corey Feldman, whose childhood work was actually pretty underrated, is hilarious as the aspiring vampire killer Edgar Frog. 

Corey, Corey, and that other guy.

And of course the showstopper is Kiefer Sutherland as David, the leader of the vampire gang.  Sutherland was fresh off his breakout performance as teenage deliquent Ace Merrill in Stand By Me, and his performance here is similar, but with the volume turned way up.  In The Lost Boys he's a total badass motherfucker who repeatedly toys with the protagonists and kills rival gang members without remorse.  Great villain.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Movies of Disbelief: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Welcome to another edition of Movies of Disbelief, here at!  If you're unfamiliar, MOD is where I examine a film, good or bad, that's based around a far-fetched premise, but find one aspect or scene that not only stretches or breaks the bonds of credibility, but pisses all over them.

Today's subject is a little different though.  As patently absurd, campy and over-the-top as this film is, the part of it I refuse to believe isn't even something that happened in the story.  It's the idea that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was directed by the same guy as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1.  Yeah that's right, Tobe Hooper, the man who in 1974 created a horror masterwork with no budget, no stars, under the worst imaginable filming conditions, somehow followed it up 12 years later with a sequel that basically sprays moldy diarrhea over everything that was great about the original.  I cannot wrap my brain around the fact that the same director made both of these movies.

Before we get into the crime against cinema that was TCM 2, let's just recap the first one a little.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, loosely inspired by the Ed Gein murders (as well as those of Dean Corll - look up that saga, it's revolting), was shot using grainy 16MM film, on a budget of roughly $150,000.  Like Night of the Living Dead it made use of real rural locations (see Herzog, Werner: "the voodoo of location") and was filmed in a cinema vérité style, allowing the horrific tale to come to life in a way that felt totally authentic and heightened the terror.  We as the audience feel like we're experiencing these ghastly events along with the protagonists.  The cast of unknowns is first-rate, playing the scenes in a casual, naturalistic way and largely improvising the loose dialogue.  By the time everything goes to hell in the second act, we've been given a reason to care about the five young adults.  We're given no background about the family of maniacs - they are simply an evil force of nature, with no discernable reason for what they do; making sense of it would undermine the senseless cruelty Sally endures in the final half-hour.  But despite the film's grisly tone and subject matter, almost all the violence and blood is left to the imagination.  Only once for example do we see chainsaw meeting flesh, and it's when Leatherface (one of the great boogeymen of horror cinema) falls down and accidentally gouges his own thigh.  But the film's timbre is so intense and macabre we think we're seeing more gore than we are.  It's brilliantly understated.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is far greater than the sum of its parts; all the unconventional elements came together - off-putting locations, genuine performances, innovative cinematography (the closeup montage of Sally's face during the dinner scene is mindbreaking), and unsettling musique concrète-inspired score (courtesy of Wayne Bell and Tobe himself) - to create a fully immersive experience of palpable terror.  It's one of the all-time great horror films.

This guy is terrifying.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam 2023 Review

Well the third AEW Grand Slam Dynamite was another rousing success overall, with an excellent slate of matchups, a super-hot New York crowd, a live gate on par with last year's show, and unfortunately a pair of injuries that hopefully won't prove too serious.

The show kicked off with Eddie Kingston finally getting his rematch with Claudio Castagnoli, this time for both the ROH Title and the NJPW Strong Openweight belt.  These two had a heated slugfest as expected, with Kingston's hometown crowd absolutely rabid to see him vanquish his longtime foe.  The battle of chops and uppercuts escalated to a series of big nearfalls, the most explosive of which occurred when Kingston kicked out of a Ricola Bomb.  Kingston came back with multiple backfists and a Northern Lights bomb for another nearfall.  Finally Kingston hit another backfist and a Kawada powerbomb to win the Ring of Honor Championship.  Claudio shook Eddie's hand before exiting.  Excellent hot opener with a feelgood story.  ****1/4

Second on the show was the first-time Chris Jericho-Sammy Guevara bout, and both men worked their asses off to try and steal the show.  The announcers referenced Jericho's hero vs. fan feud against Shawn Michaels, and it wouldn't be the last time we saw echoes of that epic rivalry.  A couple miscues aside this was pretty dazzling bout, with Sammy often trying to one-up Jericho at his own game, such as going for a top-rope Lionsault and hitting a Codebreaker.  The finish looked spectacular, as after hitting Jericho with a GTH, Sammy went to the top for a Shooting Star Press, but was countered mid-air with his own Codebreaker.  Jericho got the pin and the two friends hugged, but shades of WrestleMania 19, Sammy booted Jericho in the groin, Jericho slid down Sammy's body, and Sammy pie-faced him to the mat.  Just then Don Callis appeared, making it clear Sammy was now joining the Callis Family (and as we'd later find out on Rampage, setting up Sammy & Takeshita vs. Jericho & Omega in the future).  Another really good match.  ****1/4

Top Ten (Eleven) Things: Spinal Tap Songs

Welcome to the only edition of Top Ten Things that goes to eleven!  Today we're ranking the songs of everyone's favorite fictional heavy metal band, Spinal Tap!

Made famous of course by the 1984 Rob Reiner "mockumentary," Spinal Tap's three core members are David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).  The largely improvisational masterpiece This is Spinal Tap lampooned the world of hard rock n' roll, taking no comedic prisoners and delivering some of the all-time great metal-related, "too close to home" comedy bits.  Who can forget Nigel's wireless unit picking up the control tower at the Air Force base?  Or Derek setting off the airport metal detector with the foil-wrapped cucumber stuffed down his pants?  Or undoubtedly the most famous bit, Nigel's custom Marshall head whose dials all go to 11?  The film is an absolutely hysterical satire of the rock industry, featuring totally authentic performances from the entire cast and a flawless script.  It's simply one of the most quotable films ever made.

But what sets This is Spinal Tap apart from other fake documentaries is the legitimacy of the musicians.  McKean, Guest, Shearer, and the rest of the band played their own instruments, and along with Rob Reiner, wrote all the songs.  And despite the lyrics being mostly tongue-in-cheek (and brilliantly funny), this band put out some pretty great hard rock tunes, including a full album's worth featured in the film, and a follow-up eight years later (which in my opinion is the better of the two records).  McKean and company are all great comedic actors but I'll be damned if they aren't accomplished rock n' rollers too.

So here are the best songs ever recorded by England's loudest band.......This list goes to eleven.... 

11. Christmas With the Devil

A title that dates back to the production of the film, "Christmas With the Devil" is exactly the type of song its moniker implies; a Satanic Christmas carol complete with jingle bell accompaniment and morbidly descriptive lyrics.  "The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains," intones David to kick off this Sabbath-esque dirge.  Featured on the second album Break Like the Wind, this might be the most purely "metal" sounding of all their tracks.  Notice also the word "Hallelujah" sung backwards in the bridge.  Hilarious.

10. Rainy Day Sun

Another song from BLTW, "Rainy Day Sun" is meant to be one of the band's late 60s recordings, from when Spinal Tap were a psychedelic hippie band.  With heavy Beatles influences including some backtracked vocals and snaky string accompaniment, this song captures the spirit of the era, lending some tangible depth to the band's fictional backstory.

9. Just Begin Again

A power ballad duet from BLTW, "Just Begin Again" features a guest appearance by Cher and makes use of deliberately trite love song lyrics like "Life is just a meal/And you never say when," and "Life is just a show/Go reload your gun."  And despite the silliness of the words, this song is actually poignant and powerful, led by two strong vocal performances.

8. Rock n' Roll Creation

In the context of the film this tune is from the "pretentious, ponderous collection of religious rock psalms" known as The Gospel According to Spinal Tap.  Melding biblical elements with hard rock tropes, "RNR Creation" has one of the more evil-sounding main riffs in the catalog, mixed with simple but memorable vocal harmonies.  This song was featured in the unforgettable movie scene where Derek gets trapped in his "body snatcher" pod for the duration of the tune.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

NJPW Destruction 2023 Preview & Predictions

While wrestling tribalists bicker and name-call over who's better between AEW and WWE, we're all forgetting that NJPW has a two-part PPV coming up this weekend and two weeks later called Destruction.  And there's some fine stuff lined up for the initiated fan....

The 9/24 card is roughly half a proper PPV show, with a handful of warmup tag matches before the important stuff, but the 10/9 show is a true main-card lineup, unusual for the Destruction series.  Let's take a look, shall we? 

Night 1 - Kobe

KOPW Championship: Taichi vs. Sho

Alright, so the KOPW Title is stupid and should be discontinued, but Taichi vs. Sho on paper is a pretty good matchup, barring the inevitable overuse of House of Torture interference.  I'm still hoping against hope that stable is disbanded.  I think Sho probably captures the title here and Taichi probably wins it back later.

Pick: Sho

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Bishamon vs. TMDK

This should be a fine tag team battle, as Goto and Yoshi-Hashi have become a damn good team, and TMDK are excellent.  Bishamon have held the titles since early June so a title change could certainly happen here; these belts have jumped around like crazy over the years.

Pick: TMDK

Monday, September 18, 2023

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam 2023 Preview & Predictions

Time for the third annual AEW Dynamite Grand Slam, from Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, NY!

As with the first two Grand Slams, the Wednesday lineup is quite stacked and promises to deliver multiple bangers.  Now if we can just get people to buy these damn tickets again....  As anyone who's been following the business side of things is aware, AEW's live attendance numbers in the States are in bad shape.  Lately both Dynamite and Collision have been struggling to draw 3000 people to NBA arenas, and I'm not sure what needs to happen to make this product hot again.  Back-to-back Show of the Year-caliber PPVs, one in front of over 70,000 people hasn't done it.  The MJF-Adam Cole storyline hasn't done it.  The focus on young stars hasn't done it.  AEW needs something that galvanizes the fanbase and gets a real, positive buzz about the company again.  Maybe all the backstage drama surrounding CM Punk's firing turned some people off (and I'm sure his cult of fandom that refuses to hold him accountable for his actions simply stopped buying tickets).  But the company needs an Austin vs. McMahon, not in terms of the boss vs. talent story, but in terms of a white-hot angle unlike anything wrestling fans have seen before.  That and a more focused presentation.  

Anyway enough bad news, fortunately Dynamite's ratings have held steady (Collision's have yet to reveal a pattern since Punk's departure) and this week's show should get a boost because it's a special two-part event.  Let's look at the lineups.


Chris Jericho vs. Sammy Guevara

It's a first-time meeting between these Inner Circle buddies, and the idea is for them to get out their frustrations with each other so they can go back to being tag partners and chase the titles.  Somehow though I don't think they'll end up working things out.  To me this feels like the start of a feud that will lead to more matchups.  Sammy really needs the win here as he's had the most trouble of all the Four Pillars in gaining traction.  A clean win over Jericho would signal that he's poised to be more than Chris's sidekick.  The match should be quite good as both guys will be motivated like crazy.

Pick: Sammy

AEW Women's Championship: Saraya vs. Toni Storm

The former Outcast partners clash for the big belt, at the very venue where Saraya made her AEW debut last year.  Saraya's had very few singles matches since coming in, so this will be an interesting test.  Storm is so good she should be able to make up for any holes in Saraya's game.  The title win at Wembley felt to me like an honorary one, just as Hikaru Shida's win a few weeks earlier turned out to be.  With Storm tapping in to a new, highly entertaining character I could see her taking back the gold here.  Then again a loss would feed into said character, and Ruby Soho could interfere.  I suppose if Saraya retains that keeps this story going, with Toni becoming more and more unhinged.  This is the hardest one for me to pick.  Could there be a Mercedes Mone sighting?

Pick: I guess Saraya retains

Friday, September 15, 2023

Top Ten Things: Iron Maiden Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, where I pick my ten favorite somethingorother and bug all of you about it.

Today it's my ten favorite Iron Maiden songs! 

One of the most influential metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden was formed in the mid-70s by bassist Steve Harris.  Over the first few years the band went through various incarnations, hiring and firing band members with a frequency that would make Spinal Tap cringe.  Finally in 1980 they released their self-titled debut album and immediately gained a strong UK following, in competition with the burgeoning punk scene.  Bands like Maiden, Diamondhead, Venom, Motorhead, and several others formed a musical zeitgeist called The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (which influenced literally dozens of bands here in the States).  Maiden was soon forced to sack lead singer Paul D'Anno due to his increasing drug issues, and his replacement was diminutive onstage firecracker Bruce Dickinson, who brought incredible vocal range/power and athletic physicality to the role of frontman.  Their third album The Number of the Beast was a No. 1 smash hit in the UK and propelled Iron Maiden to international stardom.  A slew of successful albums followed, containing scores of classic songs, until Dickinson left the band in 1993 to pursue a solo career.  His successor Blaze Bayley recorded two albums to a rather tepid reaction, and in 1999 Dickinson was coaxed back into the fold.

Over the past 20+ years Maiden has released numerous albums and embarked on several hugely successful world tours, and they remain a chart-topping worldwide phenomenon.  Their music has evolved a bit over the years but they've always maintained their signature galloping energy and  literature-inspired lyrics.  Their onstage enthusiasm continues to defy the band members' advancing age, and they routinely deliver an amazing live concert experience.  A side note: historically just as mythical as the band's music are the album covers and other associated imagery.  For years artist Derek Riggs created some of the greatest cover art in music history, featuring the band's undead mascot Eddie the Head.  A few of my favorite Riggs pieces are the covers of Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and Live After Death.

But enough about that; here are my picks for the Top Ten Iron Maiden songs of all time.

**Note: While I like and appreciate some of their 21st Century work (their latest album Senjutsu is probably their best since Bruce returned), for me the classic Maiden period was 1980-1992, so all ten picks fall into that timeframe.**

10. The Trooper

Probably the most noteworthy song on 1983's Piece of Mind (Dickinson's favorite album), "The Trooper" kicks off with a start and stop feel, over which Bruce barks a defiant battle cry ("You take my life but I'll take yours too/You fire your musket but I'll run you through").  The band then dives into charging pace as the wordless chorus takes over.  What other lasting metal tunes boast a refrain consisting of nothing more than "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!"

9. The Prophecy

Yeah I know this is from "The Clairvoyant,"
but I couldn't find a "Prophecy"-specific piece of art.

The first of two entries from Seventh Son, "The Prophecy" opens with a gentle clean guitar arpeggio before exploding into a heavy triplet groove.  Dickinson regretfully howls out a warning message to an unnamed group of villagers of their impending doom, which then goes unheeded.  "The Prophecy" is simple but tremendously hooky, jumping from a minor key verse into a major key chorus.  I also love the baroque acoustic guitar outro.

8. Iron Maiden

The one non-Dickinson song on this list is the self-titled final track of the self-titled debut album.  An uncomplicated, nihilistic metal anthem, the lyrics of "Iron Maiden" dare the listener to partake in the graphic violence of the band's music, despite the music's oddly cheery tone.  This song is akin to Metallica's "Whiplash;" simply an ode to the brutality of metal.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Top Ten Things: A Perfect Circle Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

With the announcement of A Perfect Circle going back on the road in 2024, I thought I'd count down my ten favorite APC songs.  A Perfect Circle formed in 1999 when Tool's guitar tech Billy Howerdel played some original songs for Maynard James Keenan, and MJK liked the material so much he proposed adding his own vocals and recording them.  The following year the band's debut album Mer de Noms was released, garnering critical and commercial praise and setting new sales records for a debut album.  APC initially had a bit of a Tool-lite sound to my ears, incorporating Keenan's signature vocals with stripped down Adam Jones-esque guitar riffs, but with repeat listens it was clear they were their own animal, utilizing different instrumentation and a wider array of rock and alternative styles.  Keenan has bounced back and forth between both bands (plus Puscifer) ever since, and each band brings different aspects of his personality to the table (hence why he wears a wig for APC appearances).  A Perfect Circle album will always deliver something unique and unexpected, and their combined audio and visual presentation sets them apart from other alt-rock outfits.

Here are my ten favorite APC songs....

10. Blue

The band's second album Thirteenth Step largely deals with various aspects and points of view of drug addiction.  The third single "Blue" is about the aftermath of a drug overdose and the associated guilt of letting an addict indulge themselves to the point of death.  The dark subject matter is somewhat tempered by the sardonic lyrical tone - "Call an optimist, she's turning blue," and the result is one of APC's more lingering numbers.

9. Eat the Elephant

The oddly tearjerking opening track from APC's newest album is very simply about struggling to begin a journey or endeavor, not knowing how or where to start.  Billy Howerdel was apparently thinking of Chester Bennington when he wrote it, and lines like "Where to begin eludes me/Without you to remind me" evoke loss and being lost, in heart-wrenchingly straightforward terms.  This piano ballad is a very unusual way to kick off a rock record, but it sets the tone for a very different APC album and is one of its deeply moving standouts.

8. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

The strongest song on Eat the Elephant in my opinion is this upbeat, 80s new wave-tinged single about our strange obsession with celebrities and how their deaths affect us, as well as our preoccupation with other modern paraphernalia.  With references to "Willy Wonka, Major Tom, Ali and Leia," this tune was apparently inspired by REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," pointing out how absurd it all seems when you really think about what 21st century society deems important.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Top Ten Things: Tool Songs

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

Today I'm thinkin' about everyone's favorite weirdo math-metal quartet, the Stanley Kubrick of rock n' roll, Tool!

I compare them to Kubrick because like Stanley, Tool are uncompromising in their artistic vision, relentlessly perfectionistic, and their output is not easily digestible, yet it's still commercially successful.  You need to put in some work to enjoy a Tool album; it's not something you can listen to passively.  Between the unconventional time signatures, the multi-layered instrumentation, the radio-defying running times, and the hooks that only sink in after several listens, a Tool record gets infinitely better with familiarity.  When I think of Tool I think of Maynard's snaking, undulating melodies, Adam's agile guitar riffs that fit together like puzzle pieces with Justin's pulsing bass lines, and Danny's impossibly complex drum patterns that sound like he has at least two extra limbs.  Tool is unlike any other band out there; the songs conjure vivid imagery and develop organically, taking as long as they need to get where they're going.

But which Tool songs are at the top of the pile?  Let's take a look at the Top Ten Tool Tunes.....

**Note: I'm a music nerd so some of this will deal with the songs' compositional theory.**

10. Lateralus

The title track from their third album, the wildly complex "Lateralus" features shifting time signatures (5/8 in the verse, 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8 in the chorus) and a vocal rhythm inspired by the Fibonacci sequence.  The subject matter is about growing and pushing one's boundaries to achieve something greater than themselves, again tying into the Fibonacci theme ("Ride the spiral to the end/And may just go where no one's been").  The verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure then gives way to a climactic third act that employs a 4-over-3 polyrhythm, with the vocals in 4 and everything else in 3.  This is one of Tool's many epic tunes that dazzles musically but also carries a positive message.

9. Jambi

The second song on 10,000 Days borrows its strange title from Pee Wee's Playhouse (specifically the show's genie character), which Danny Carey said sprung to mind when he heard Justin Chancellor's bass line.  "Jambi" is mostly in 9/8, giving the song a circular pulse, and features some of Adam Jones' most impressive syncopated rhythm guitar work.  Lyrically the song seems to deal with the meaninglessness of wealth and power without being able to share it with one's soul mate, as it were - "If I could I'd wish it all away/If I thought tomorrow would take you away."  Then the song's conclusion mentions two uniting as one, a theme that recurs later in the album and in its stereoscopic artwork.  It's probably as close to a love song as the band has ever written.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Top Ten Things: Kurt Angle Matches

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

Today I'll be counting down the top ten matches of probably the greatest pure athlete ever to lace up a pair of pro wrestling boots, Kurt Freakin' Angle.  Angle made easily the most successful-ever transition from the amateur/Olympic mat to the WWF/E ring, picking up the mechanics and storytelling nuances faster than possibly anyone before him.  After only a few years in the business Angle became a company MVP, delivering dozens of Match of the Year candidates during his seven-year WWF/E run.  He then very unexpectedly signed with TNA and repeated his in-ring success there, proving himself a cornerstone for the better part of a decade.

So now, let's take a look back at the best matches in Kurt Angle's remarkable career....

10. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle - WWE WrestleMania XX - 3.14.04

The billed semi-main event for the 20th WrestleMania was Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle for the WWE Title.  This was an instant classic with fantastic performances by both men, and had one of the cleverest endings I can remember (Eddie loosened his boot so that when Angle put him in the anklelock it would slip off his foot.  Then when Angle charged at him, Eddie nailed a small package for the win.  A perfect way for the Eddie Guerrero character to steal a victory.)

9. Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe - TNA Turning Point - 12.10.06

Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle was easily the greatest (and most profitable) feud in TNA history, and this was their best match together.  Only weeks after his TNA debut, Angle won their shockingly brief first encounter at Genesis, but now it was time for Joe to even the score.  After 19 minutes of spectacular back-and-forth chain wrestling and submissions, Joe finally made Angle tap out to the Coquina Clutch, ending one of the best matches of 2006.

8. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit - WWE Unforgiven - 9.22.02

The two best technical wrestlers in the company (and probably the world) at this time engaged in a legendary on/off feud from 2001-2003, and while not the apex of said rivalry (Hint: there's more Angle vs. Benoit on this list), this match is near the top.  There was no major angle taking place between Angle and Benoit, this was just a battle for dominance.  They built on their 2001 match series and delivered a blistering 15-minute clinic with nary a low point.  Benoit eventually won with a quick rollup, and these two would go on to become reluctant tag partners in the quest for the new WWE Tag Team Titles.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Welcome to the long-awaited return (by at least three people) of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!  It's been a while for this feature, but at long last I found the time to sit down and watch a movie I can't help but sorta like, despite it being pretty goddamn terrible.  That "film" is the infamous (ya know, MORE than famous) 1967 television special "written" and "directed" by The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour!

Inspired by mid-60s cross-country bus trips organized by author Ken Kesey, and mostly Paul McCartney's brainchild (though he later said he wasn't sure he wanted to take the full blame for it), Magical Mystery Tour tells the story (for lack of a better word) of the band and a group of their friends taking a bus excursion across the English countryside, interspersed with music videos of the band's latest songs (featured on the album of the same name).  And, well, that's it.  The Beatles attempted to conjure a plot out of thin air but the resulting film is more a collection of little episodes and sketches than it is a proper story.  It was horribly received upon its release (not helped by the fact that the BBC channel on which it originally aired didn't have color capability at the time), but has somewhat gained in popularity since (probably because The Beatles were involved) and currently enjoys a very generous 62% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Disney probably paid them to put that there, amirite??).

I became a hardcore Beatles fan around age ten and sought out all their music and films, and in 1986 my parents bought me a low-grade VHS copy of this movie that looked like absolute cow shit.  And because it was a Beatles endeavor I'd convinced myself it was quality entertainment, knowing deep down it was a major misfire from a band I'd held up as infallible.  Still to this day part of my brain has a weird appreciation for this flop, and when I discovered a cheap Blu-Ray restoration on Ebay I had to bite.  In 1080p this film absolutely gains something back from a visual standpoint, so there's that at least.  And despite being a disorganized mess, parts of it have an offbeat charm to them.  But man, is this thing a clusterfuck if you go into it expecting an actual movie.

But enough introductions, let's take a look at the pluses and minuses of Magical Mystery TourA Hard Day's Night this ain't.....

The Awesome

Beatles Songs

Any movie whose soundtrack is comprised of Beatles music automatically scores a few points with me (as it should with everyone).  Granted, the songs written specifically for this film, "I Am the Walrus" excluded, are probably not on anyone's Beatles top ten list.  But this movie is essentially strung together on a clothesline of Beatles music videos, so that aspect has to be considered its strongest feature.  Imagine how much better it would've been if it were built around the second side of the MMT album though.  "Strawberry Fields," "Penny Lane," "All You Need Is Love..."


To that end, each music video is pretty cool visually.  Paul's "A Fool on the Hill" was shot in the mountains of France and boasts some beautiful natural scenery.  "Flying" largely consists of discarded landscape shots from Dr. Strangelove but with color filter effects (Did Stanley Kubrick lift that idea for similar shots in the 2001 "stargate sequence" or vice-versa?).  "I Am the Walrus" is a super bizarre, trippy video that Paul McCartney himself later cited as the one indisputable positive to come out of this film.  "Blue Jay Way" is gloomy and atmospheric like the song that inspired it.  "Your Mother Should Know" is a fun little ballroom act sequence.  On top of the videos, there are some interesting little touches scattered throughout.  The Aunt Jessie nightmare sequence for example includes an unnerving shot of a little person snapping photos from a swinging cage apparatus, a shot that would've been right at home in a David Lynch film.  So regardless of its myriad of shortcomings, Magical Mystery Tour definitely has no dearth of intruiging things to look at.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Top Ten Things: Nine Inch Nails Songs

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!

Today I'm talking about the music of one of my favorite bands/artists, who I didn't get into until 2009 (You read that right, I was very late to the game), Nine Inch Nails.  I discussed my years-in-the-making appreciation for Mr. Reznor's most successful musical venture HERE, so I won't bore you with those details again, but I thought I'd narrow down what are in my opinion his ten greatest songs, from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine all the way up to 2013's Hesitation Marks (Nothing from Not the Actual Events, Add Violence, or Bad Witch made the cut for me).  NIN's output has been so varied and unapologetically experimental it was tough to limit this list to ten (Honorable Mentions include "Hurt," "In This Twilight," and "Into the Void"), but if I hadn't I'd be forced to call this Top Twenty-Seven Things, and that just sounds weird.  Like the music on Ghosts I-IV...

Anyway here are my ten favorite Nine Inch Nails songs.

10. Zero Sum

The closing track from my favorite NIN album Year Zero is more or less exactly what the title suggests - a Year Zero Summation.  The concept album portrays a near-future dystopia in which corporate interests and power-hungry politicians have taken over (just like now!), the populace is hopelessly hooked on mind-altering drugs (just like now!), and about halfway through, a superior species (or maybe God) issues a warning to the human race to change its tune or face extinction (just like-- wait, that hasn't happened yet...).  "Zero Sum" presents us with the end of the story; humanity has failed in its charge, and so dozens of gigantic alien hands reach down through the sky to crush us all to powder.  I'd love to see this album adapted as a film (HBO was developing a TV series but that fell through).  Musically the song is sparse and features Reznor's spoken word lament before a poppy, piano-driven chorus takes over: "Shame on us/Doomed from the start/May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts..."  This song is the perfect way to close this remarkable, evocative album.

9. Closer

The song that put NIN on the map (from the psychologically unsettling concept album that did the same) was this creepy disco-esque number about sex as an escape from the narrator's terrifyingly unbalanced state of mind.  I hated, HATED this song when it came out, and it wasn't until 15 years later that I finally accepted its simplistic genius.  It's one of the perviest songs I've ever heard and it really shouldn't inspire anything but revulsion, and yet it became a universally-loved crossover hit for its toe-tapping dance groove and infamously explicit hook line, "I wanna fuck you like an animal."  The bizarrely disturbing video brings this song to visual life in a way that truly captures Reznor's demented imagination.

8. Copy of a

In 2013 NIN returned from a four-year hiatus with Hesitation Marks, a fairly safe but very enjoyable collection of sparse, beat-driven songs, the first of which is "Copy of a."  This track features a repeated polyrhythm throughout, as a 5/16 synth figure plays over the song's 4/4 time.  Reznor's vocals are rather gently delivered as he ruminates about lacking personality and purpose.  The song (like many tracks on this album) has a less-is-more feel to it, never overstaying its welcome or veering into melodrama, and serves as a very welcome return for Reznor & co.