Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The History of NXT TakeOver: Portland

The NXT brand once again delivered a killer TakeOver special, stringing together six good-to-excellent matches with nary a low point on the card.  While for me some matches went too far in a few places and the show lacked a true MOTY contender, NXT Portland was nonetheless a tremendous effort.

The show kicked off with the North American Title match, pitting old rivals Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic in a hard-hitting power battle.  These two powerhouses threw everything at each other, including a few death-defying dives and a climactic Spanish Fly off the top rope from Dijakovic.  The crowd was red-hot for this and every match, and bought into all of it.  Lee and Dijakovic's chemistry was very evident, as they've been working together for years, and this felt like NXT's version of a crazy indie match.  My only complaint was that after the Spanish Fly spot, Lee kicked out, Dijakovic went for a power move but his back gave out, and Lee just finished him with the Big Bang Catastrophe out of nowhere.  That felt like a parody of the WWE-style finish, where one guy seemingly has the match wrapped up but the other guy does his big move suddenly and wins.  Aside from that though, this was really good.  ****

The surprise hit of the night for me was the Tegan Nox-Dakota Kai Street Fight, which was shockingly violent, crisply worked, and exciting all the way through.  It was probably still the weakest match of the night by default, but that's not a knock on the match itself.  Nox and Kai did some spectacular stuff, including a German suplex on a trash can, a top-rope chokeslam, and a top-rope Molly Go-Round.  The story was that Nox was so preoccupied with punishing Kai, she declined to go for the pin after a Shining Wizard and instead put her on a table and put a chair around her head with the intent of Pillmanizing her, but Raquel Gonzalez tossed her off the top rope on to the table (another brutal-looking spot, as the table didn't break but instead tipped over on contact), allowing Kai to get the pin.  Damn good fight.  ***1/2

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

NXT TakeOver: Portland Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of PPV Predictions, here at Enuffa.com!

This weekend we're getting an NXT TakeOver show that doesn't immediately precede a main roster PPV, and it's on a Sunday to boot.  This here is what you'd call "NXT trying to stand on its own."  The lineup looks pretty spectacular as always, and we're getting an unusual six matches instead of five.  I imagine this means the show will go a full three hours, and I ain't even mad.  At least one major NXT star seems to have a WrestleMania match in her future, and I wonder if others will follow.

Let's take a gander and make some predictions....

Street Fight: Dakota Kai vs. Tegan Nox

This is the long-awaited payoff to Kai's shocking heel turn at Survivor Series and the rules are out the window.  Should be heated, and the crowd should be into it.  I think it'll get somewhat lost in the shuffle on a loaded card like this, but it should be a fun bout.

Pick: This being Nox's revenge story I'll pick her to win

North American Championship: Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic

The two monster babyface pals face off for Lee's newly won NA Title.  This should be a real battle of the bulls.  Keith is obviously keeping the title here and will I assume face Roderick Strong at the 'Mania weekend show, but Dijakovic should give him an entertaining first big title defense.

Pick: Lee retains

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Great PPVs: Chi-Town Rumble '89

Welcome to another edition of The Great PPVs - whether you're reading this via our friends at TheGorillaPosition.com or at our own site Enuffa.com, I hope you're enjoying this series thus far as we look back on some of the all-time great wrestling shows.

Since it's February I thought I'd take a look at one of the old NWA's greatest offerings from the 1980s, Chi-Town Rumble!  This one-time PPV took place on February 20, 1989 (a Monday night for some reason) and is most remembered for its critically acclaimed main event that launched one of the greatest rivalries in the annals of the business.  But this show had a damn good undercard as well, with most of the company's major titles on the line and a some big feuds resolved.  Chi-Town Rumble served as an excellent sequel to the previous year's Starrcade (for my money the 1988 edition was the best of the bunch), while also kicking off what was pretty universally considered the greatest year in the company's grand history.

The show got off to a slow start with a pair of undercard singles bouts.  First up was the returning Michael Hayes facing one of the Russian Assassins.  This match oddly got nearly sixteen minutes despite being little more than a showcase to re-establish Hayes as an upper midcard babyface, but it was largly inoffensive.  It was followed by another pseudo-showcase match for Sting, who went over twenty minutes against Butch Reed, with better results.  Neither of these matches is terribly important or all that memorable except in building up two future singles champions, but from the third match on the show never faltered.

The first of five good-to-great matches pitted The Midnight Express and Jim Cornette vs. The Original Midnight Express and Paul E. Dangerously, with a Loser Leaves the NWA stipulation (Unfortunately Dennis Condrey had jumped the gun and left the company before this event, and utility man Jack Victory replaced him).  Like the MX vs. OMX match at Starrcade, this was a wild, fast-paced affair with the added bonus of the two managers scuffling.  After almost sixteen minutes the babyface Midnights scored the pin after a double flapjack to Randy Rose.  While not quite at the level of the Starrcade bout, this was a very entertaining match and a good blowoff to the feud.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Music Review: Kesha - High Road

Kesha's fourth album High Road is sort of a mix of her early party pop sensibilities and her more poignant, introspective material found on 2017's Rainbow (her first record free from the abusive contract she'd signed with Dr. Luke).  Where that album was a cathartic, often heart-rending purge of personal demons, High Road (as the title implies) attempts to get back to a sense of fun and carefreedom while still exploring a bit of Kesha's thirty-something maturity.

The album's first third is lighthearted pop fare - "Tonight," "My Own Dance," and "Raising Hell" are all about going out and having a good time, albeit with a tinge of Kesha's debaucherous self-awareness ("I'm getting so drunk/I haven't seen my boyfriend in a few months").  "Tonight" is the best of these, with an anthemic, Nate Ruess-esque chorus (Ruess co-wrote a couple of the other tracks in fact) and evocative word-pictures.  The fourth and fifth tracks, "High Road" and "Shadow," seem to indicate Kesha's intent to move past the struggles chronicled on Rainbow and just worry about the future, critics be damned.

For me it's the second act where High Road really comes alive.  "Honey" is a scathing rebuke of a former friend, featuring layered R&B vocals over a Weezer-esque guitar loop.  Songs like this one showcase Kesha's admirable directness and free-flowing spontaneity.  My two favorite tracks are next, both understated, folky, affecting laments of missed boats and eroding love.  "Cowboy Blues" is a sweet and sad duet about a fella she met at a dive bar and never saw again, while "Resentment" (featuring Brian Wilson and Sturgill Simpson) deals with being taken for granted by a longtime lover.  These two songs are quite beautiful and I'd love to hear Kesha do more of this.

Parents' Night In #28: Lost in Translation (2003), A Pivotal Film for These Two Parents....

Welcome to the first PNI of 2020, where Kelly and Justin watch and discuss Sofia Coppola's breakout film Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson!  This was one of the first films we watched together as a couple, on our first bona fide date, and we've been enjoying films together ever since.  LIT holds sentimental value for us as a sweet, poignant film about two lonely people finding a deep emotional connection in a strange city.  It's funny, thoughtful and delightful, and we love watching it.  We'll also discuss Oscar history, traveling, and the dawn of text messaging.

Join us for some fun!

#ScarJo #ScarlettJohansson #AcademyAwards #Oscars

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Movie Review: Little Women (2019)

Greta Gerwig's new version of the much-adapted Little Women injects a bit of 21st century sensibility into the classic story, while lending more urgency and even a bit of meta-fiction to the narrative.  

Starring the wonderful Saoirse Ronan as lead character Jo (a largely autobiographical creation of the novel's author Louisa May Alcott), Emma Watson as her loving older sister Meg, Eliza Scanlen as sickly Beth, and Florence Pugh in a powderkeg performance as the youngest, Amy, Little Women jumps back and forth between the four sisters' harmonious Concord, MA upbringing in 1861 and their splintering apart as young adults in 1868.  As someone already familiar with the story from Gillian Armstrong's 1994 version, but fuzzy on the details from a quarter-century ago when I saw it, I found Gerwig's disjointed approach actually more engaging than a chronological structure would've been.  Instead of waiting for the inevitable story beats I remembered, I had to piece together what was happening in which time period; there are no titles as the film jumps back and forth, it just does.

The film begins with Jo negotiating the sale of some short story work to her New York City publisher, before learning the news that her younger sister Beth is gravely ill, and rushing home to Massachusetts.  She reminisces sporadically about events from seven years earlier, when Jo and her three sisters lived a rather poor but overall content life with their mother, keeping each other's spirits high by performing plays and visiting with their neighbor Laurie (a charming but deeply troubled Timothee Chalamet in a superb performance).

At the same time in Paris, a now-grown Amy reconnects with Laurie, who once proposed to Jo only to be turned down, but now seems drawn to Amy.  Both Amy and her older sister Meg struggle with the idea of marrying for money vs. for love; in the mid-19th century women who married got to keep essentially nothing of their own.  Their money, property and children all became their husbands', thus women like Amy view marriage as little more than a business transaction, while Meg has taken the opposite path, marrying a penniless teacher, content to raise a family on a modest income.  Someone like Jo on the other hand has little use for marriage, preferring to keep her own identity.  This theme is front and center in this version, cleverly woven into the later scenes involving Jo's publishing deal.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka 2020 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of NJPW predictions, here at Enuffa.com!  I was on vacation last week and totally forgot to do this for the Sapporo New Beginning shows, dammit.  But anyway, I'm back for the Osaka lineup, which is really the important one.  That said, definitely check out the final two bouts of each Sapporo show - all quite excellent.

This lineup has four big singles matches and a Jr. Tag Title defense, including Tetsuya Naito's first defense of his double championship.  I wonder how long he'll keep them both, or if he'll even defend them separately.  Anyway, this show features a modest 8-match lineup but should be a very easy watch and provide some new entries for my Top Ten February PPV Matches list (stay tuned for the updated version).  Let's pick some winners....

Tencozy, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Ryusuke Taguchi & Toa Henare

Part of the Nakanishi retirement tour, this opener is a lot like Jushin Liger's 8-man at the Dome.  A nice little pre-retirement send-off.  Should be a fun match, likely ending with Nakanishi doing the job.

Pick: Team Great Bash Heel

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: RPG3K vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Sho & Yoh will defend their newly-won Jr. Tag belts against the team they apparently can't get enough of wrestling.  These two teams have yet to really tear the house down together, so I'd like to see Sho & Yoh move on to a really great pair of heel juniors.  I can't imagine RPG3K loses the belts already.

Pick: RPG3K retains

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robison & David Finlay vs. Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi & Guerrillas of Destiny

Another 8-man tag, this will be Kota Ibushi's return after a pretty serious flu-like illness that kept him off the US tour.  Dude needs to take it easy and rest up for the New Japan Cup.  I like the babyface side of this match, while the heel side is eh...  GOD just won back the tag belts and I don't know if FinJuice will continue chasing them or not.  But I think the good guys win here.

Pick: Tanibuicelay

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Top Ten Things: Film Directors

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

Today I'll be discussing my all-time favorite filmmakers.  As a cinefile I've spent years seeking out quality films made by gifted directors, and there have been more than a few whose careers I've followed very closely, at least for a while.  Some directors fell off my radar after a downturn in quality (Rob Reiner anyone?), but in each of the below cases I actively seek out films by these directors.  In some cases they are essential viewing for me.

Here now is the list....

10. Paul Thomas Anderson

One of Hollywood's quirkiest, most adventurous directors, Anderson has made a career of creating non-traditional films centered around flawed protagonists.  He often wears his cinematic influences on his sleeve, but always injects his own style and sensibilities into every picture.  His noirish debut Hard Eight garnered positive reviews, but it was his sophomore effort which brought him to my attention.  Boogie Nights chronicles the rise and fall of adult film star Dirk Diggler, set against the messy transition from the artsy smut of the 70s to the more utilitarian, VHS-driven industry of the 80s.  Anderson created such a fully realized universe and cast of characters in this movie I couldn't help being totally immersed, and Boogie Nights remains one of my all-time favorite films.  He followed it up with the uneven but superbly acted Magnolia, the Kubrick-esque opus There Will Be Blood, and the puzzling but never dull The Master.  Even in light of his two (in my opinion) misfires Punch-Drunk Love and Inherent Vice, Anderson has enjoyed a stellar career thus far, directing two masterpieces and three other uniquely admirable efforts.

Top Three Films: Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master

9. David Fincher

Perhaps no other director seized my fascination so early on in his career as David Fincher.  His debut film Alien 3 (which he later disowned) disappointed me severely, but there was still something about his visual style that struck me.  His ability to play with light and darkness lent Alien 3 a richness that its script sorely lacked.  He brought that sense of intensely tangible dread to the forefront in his second film, the overwhelmingly bleak Se7en (another one of my all-time favorites), and again in his Hitchcockian thriller The Game.  But it will probably always be Fight Club that audiences most closely associate with Fincher.  This mindfuck of a movie had such a profound impact on our cinematic lexicon, and along with The Sixth Sense, made plot twists a must-have in any thriller for several years.  Much of Fincher's recent work has been a little more conventional (but often still excellent), from the police procedural Zodiac, to the Gump-esque Benjamin Button, to the darkly droll The Social Network.  His two most recent films (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl) were both based on bestsellers, with mixed box office results, but they cemented Fincher as a visually gifted event filmmaker.

Top Three Films: Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network

8. F.W. Murnau

One of cinema's earliest visionaries, Murnau created some of the most optically stunning images ever photographed for a film.  At a time when most moving pictures featured static, flat camera angles, Murnau brought expressionist atmosphere and movement (In The Last Laugh for example he used a swing and a wheelchair to create motion).  He also made use of deliberately fantastical special effects to lend his films a moody, dreamlike quality.  Consider the opening passages in his horrific epic Faust, which depicts a struggle between God and Satan.  These effects don't strive for realism, yet they're more effective in conveying the story than some of our modern CGI.  Undoubtedly Murnau's most famous film is Nosferatu, the first major adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Murnau set the bar for all future versions of the immortal Count, inventing a loathsome, disease-spreading apparition.  Some of film horror's most iconic images came from this film and it remains mandatory viewing every Halloween.  Murnau was sadly killed in a car accident shortly after being imported by Hollywood, and it's a tragedy we never got to see his intended American filmography.  His first American film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, won three awards at the first Oscars ceremony.

Top Three Films: Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh

92nd Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

Welcome to the 5th Annual Academy Awards Predictions column here at Enuffa.com, where my colleague Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I compete for bragging rights, prognosticating the Oscars!

Image result for 92nd academy awards

2019 is in the history books and we've got quite the slate of films this year - films about war, auto racing, 60s Hollywood, mentally disturbed comic book villains, 19th century women, gangsters, strained marriages, imaginary Nazi friends, and whatever the hell Parasite is about.  I've seen six of the Best Pic nominees and hope to catch the last three before Sunday.

This turned out to be a very strong year in film; several good popcorn movies (Avengers: Endgame, The Rise of Skywalker), some really innovative genre pictures (Us, 1917, Joker), multiple offerings from under the expanding Netflix umbrella (The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes), and yet another neo-classic from Quentin Tarantino, featuring a pair of actors being referred to as "The last two true movie stars."  We'll eventually write a piece about the films of the 2010s, and I'd likely include multiple entries from 2019 on my Best Of list.

Once again the Oscars have no host this year; I think most people enjoyed the streamlined format to keep the running time down and the show simpler.  I generally like the idea of a host, but aside from the opening monologue/song I suppose there isn't much need for one.  Regardless, this should be a fun evening.  But enough blathering, let's pick some winners (As of now Mike is trouncing me in the predictions)....

Best Picture

Ford vs. Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit 
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Justin:  This category is between two frontrunners, each of which won a Best Picture Golden Globe.  1917 is an incredible, immersive war film done in one continuous shot (or at least edited to look like it), while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a love letter to the late 60s set against the backdrop of the Sharon Tate murders.  I loved both of these films.  My favorite of the year was OUATIH and I'm a little sad Tarantino's going to come so close to winning the big one only to fall short again.  But it seems clear the Academy is going all-in on 1917, which Sam Mendes based on World War I stories his grandfather used to tell him.  I'm fine with that winning, as it's my second choice (Poetically Mendes's debut feature won this award 20 years ago).  I'm also happy Joker got a nod.  What a surreal film; a Scorsese-esque character study about a comic book character.  It's kind of mindboggling this film got made and even moreso that it made a fortune.

Prediction: 1917

Mike: I've managed to see 7 of the 9 nominees this year and I'm sure I've seen the eventual winner. Parasite is a master class in filmmaking and storytelling. The theme behind the story and how it was delivered was just incredible. However, no foreign film has ever taken home the top prize and I'm not so sure that will change, even for the best reviewed movie of the year. Joker was great and JoJo Rabbit was such a great movie. Funny and absurd but then takes a turn into the serious. It reminded me a lot of Life Is Beautiful. But my favorite film this year was easily 1917. It was really hard to get past how great the storytelling was, how it was shot, and the suspense it captured.

Prediction: 1917

Best Director

Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
Todd Phillips – Joker
Sam Mendes – 1917
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon-ho – Parasite

Justin: Like the Best Pic category, this is a two-horse race.  Quentin Tarantino vs. Sam Mendes.  Again I'll be sad to see Tarantino, one of my all-time favorite directors, fall just short of this award, but the smart money is on Mendes.  Todd Phillips's work on Joker was a little too Scorsese for him to deserve this, while Scorsese's work on The Irishman was a little too.....well, 90s Scorsese.  Bong Joon-ho could be a spoiler but I'm sticking with Sam.

Prediction: Sam Mendes

Mike: I agree with you that this is a two-horse race however Tarantino isn't a part of it. For me, it's between Mendes and Bong Joon Ho for Parasite. 1917 is a film that ranks up there with Saving Private Ryan (the most famous of all the Academy's sins) and if he was awarded the Oscar, it's deserved. However, Parasite is a masterpiece and its delivery is crazy good. This was a film I actually had to digest after it was over. Also, considering how the Director's branch of the Academy is primarily made up of directors from other countries, I think Parasite's theme is actually going to translate more in this category than any others.

Prediction: Bong Joon Ho

Monday, February 3, 2020

Movies of Disbelief: Signs (2002)

Welcome to another Movies of Disbelief, where I examine one particular issue with an otherwise good film and why it irritates me so.  Today's subject, the 2002 alien invasion film Signs.

M. Night Shyamalan.  Has there ever been a more divisive film director?  Or more accurately, has there ever been a film director whose output has ranged from "universally lauded" to "fiery garbage on a stick?"  M. Night burst on the scene seemingly out of nowhere with his third film The Sixth Sense (I legit had no idea he'd made two other movies until I looked it up for this article), which proved a smash-hit and popularized the mindfuck ending like no other film had.  He followed it up with the mostly acclaimed but less successful Unbreakable, an intimate twist on the superhero genre (which of course spawned a trilogy nearly twenty years later), and then it was time for Signs.

Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, Signs was another "up close and personal" take on a genre film, this time The Alien Invasion picture.  Gibson is a widowed ex-minister-turned-farmer who finds a crop circle in his field, seemingly left by an alien presence, and soon other signs of an invasion spring up, including strange noises, animals exhibiting abnormal behavior, and lights in the sky.  Eventually news reports surface of alien sightings, leading to one of the great monster reveals, an amateur video taken at a kids' birthday party (This moment is chillingly effective).  The film expertly builds suspense throughout its entire running time, leading to a final showdown between Gibson's family (brother and two kids) and one of the creatures......and then it falls apart totally and completely in the last fifteen minutes, when it turns out the aliens are allergic to water.  Yeah that's right, simple, old fashioned water.

Dude, scary as fuck.

But that's not even what has my goat about this movie.  Don't get me wrong, it's annoying as all hell that an advanced species capable of interstellar travel - one that would've necessarily taken atmospheric readings before landing on any planet, to ensure the air is breathable - couldn't figure out that not only is our planet 70% covered with liquid that will disintegrate them, but its atmosphere is LOADED with it.  Like, how did they walk around a humid climate such as Brazil without inhaling moisture that would've corroded them from the inside?  How did it not happen to rain in any of the locales they invaded?  But okay, let's say for argument's sake, they couldn't figure out Terra Firma has water coming out its ass.  We'll shelve that gripe, as I have bigger goddamn fish to fry with this movie.

Hmmm, what d'ya suppose I could do with ol' Wonder Bat here?

No, what really pisses me off about this film is the other climactic "reveal," where Mel and his family are under siege by one of these lizard men, and only after flashing back to his wife's cryptic dying words "Tell Merrill to swing away" does it occur to Mel, "Say, perhaps I should urge my brother to grab that baseball bat on the wall and Al Capone E.T.'s fucking brains out."  Yeah that's right.  Instead of instinctively going for the first blunt instrument he can get his hands on, he ponders for a moment the last thing Mrs. Gibson said to him after a drunk driver pinned her to a tree, and it just so happened to suggest these Martian motherfuckers could be felled by a Louisville Slugger to their big green faces.  I know when I'm being attacked I try to think of a deceased loved one's final earthly guidance, no matter how irrelevant it might seem.  This one time I got mugged, and my first impulse was to reflect on my grandmother's dying advice, "Boy, you show 'em you're good as gold," and I proceeded to take a golden piss all over that mugger, who ran screaming into the night.  What a fucking stupid ending to this movie.  Someone invades your home, you find a weapon and attack them with it.  It's literally one of the first two impulses you'd have, the other being to hide.  Why in the FUCK would this scene need an enigmatic flashback that neatly ties into the domestic crisis our heroes find themselves in?

This movie should be called Signs...That Your Director is a Pretentious Asshole.

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Starship Troopers

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com, where I'll examine a movie I have mixed feelings about and separate what works from what doesn't.  Today's entry is the monstrously violent political satire from Paul Verhoeven called Starship Troopers!

The 1997 film was based on Robert Heinlein's 1959 militaristic, rather pro-fascist novel about a group of high schoolers who enroll in the military to wage war against an army of alien "bugs."  In the novel the main character Johnny Rico has a fairly triumphant arc, becoming a respected officer and leader as the war wages on.  The film however has a decidedly satirical thrust, mostly poking fun at the very subject matter on which it was based.  On the surface this movie seemed like the usual alien invasion sci-fi/action tripe, but as he did with Robocop, Verhoeven created something much more substantial and sociopolitical.  He got a lot of things right with this film, but while Robocop is basically perfect for what it is, Troopers unfortunately leaves some things to be desired.  So let's take a look at this Awesomely Shitty Movie....

The Awesome


The militaristic tone and pro-meritocracy slant (having to earn full citizens' rights) of the novel are cleverly satirized by director Paul Verhoeven in a way that rides the line between honoring and lampooning Robert Heinlein's work.  In fact Verhoeven found the novel unreadable and still managed to make a capable film adaptation.  The officer uniforms are also clearly inspired by those of Nazi officials, and the propaganda films shown throughout are flagrantly a riff on Nazi indoctrination such as Triumph of the Will.  Structurally this film is strikingly similar to All Quiet on the Western Front, following a group of high school kids (who in this case seem lifted right out of 90210) who get duped into enlisting and have horrible things happen to them.

Who designed these space suits, Michelin?


Like with Robocop, Verhoeven sprinkled (or more accurately slathered) this movie with over-the-top, graphic violence which becomes both disturbing and oddly amusing.  There are countless battle scenes with humans being stabbed through various body parts by the bugs' spear-like legs, and plenty of scenes depicting bugs being inefficiently blown to gooey pieces by the soldiers.  Plus there's the climactic scene where the brain bug sucks Zander Barcalow's brain out through his skull.  It's not for the squeamish, but man is it entertaining for us sick folk (fucks).

Dammit Paul, I wanted to see what happened to the cow!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Top Ten Things: Opening PPV Matches

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

With WrestleKingdom 13 in the books and the fantastic match that kicked off that show, I got to thinking about my favorite PPV opening matches over the last 35 years or so.  I eventually narrowed it down to 25, and in a fairly agonizing process, managed to pick my favorites.  Like a killer opening song on an album, a great opening match can instantly grab your attention and set the tone for the rest of the evening.  It gets the live crowd excited, which in turn lends more energy to the rest of the PPV.  The quality of the opening bout can leave almost as big an impression as that of the main event; if a show starts well and ends well you tend to remember it as a damn fine show (I do anyway), even if the stuff in the middle isn't so hot.  At the very least a great opening match makes me want to watch the show a second time.  Most PPVs tend to feature shorter bouts to kick things off, but every so often the first match either steals the show outright or comes pretty damn close.  Here are ten such examples.....

10. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon - WrestleMania 33

The main card of the 2017 edition of WrestleMania kicked off with a match I wasn't at all happy about.  AJ Styles, by far the most accomplished star in the company over the previous 14 months, was saddled fighting Vince's son instead of tearing it up with someone of his caliber.  But I'll be damned if it wasn't incredibly entertaining.  AJ was amazing as usual, and Shane had his working shoes on just trying to keep up.  Many of the spots were over-the-top, including Shane countering AJ's 450 splash into a triangle choke, Shane missing a Shooting Star Press, AJ trying the Van Terminator but running into a trash can, and Shane doing his own Van Terminator.  AJ finally took the win after hitting the Phenomenal Forearm, capping off what was shockingly the best match of the night.  This match proved that AJ Styles could have a good match with anyone, and also earned AJ the company's permanent stamp of approval.

9. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler - Bragging Rights 2010

Probably D-Bryan's first true standout match in WWE was this sleeper hit to kick off the second and final Bragging Rights PPV.  By far the best match on the show, this US Champ vs. IC Champ bout allowed Bryan to show off his technical prowess against an opponent who could hang with him move-for-move.  This see-saw match went a thrilling 16 minutes, including a false finish where Ziggler seemed to have won the match but Bryan's foot was on the rope, before Bryan tapped Ziggler out with the LeBell Lock.  The pair followed it up with an equally good rematch the next night on RAW.  At year's end, WWE cited this as one of the best matches of 2010, ranking it second (I believe) only to Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.  This was the first instance of the company openly showing appreciation for Bryan's abilities.

8. Brian Pillman vs. Jushin Thunder Liger - SuperBrawl II

The second SuperBrawl PPV, the best in the series, had the show stolen by this groundbreaking opening contest for the newly minted WCW Light Heavyweight Title.  This 17-minute bout was full of great false finishes and big high spots, demonstrating this wonderful alternative to the norm known as cruiserweight wrestling and showcasing a style of wrestling North American fans weren't yet accustomed to.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash, regaining the short-lived championship.  While Jr.-style wrestling wouldn't catch on for a few more years, this match served as one of the templates.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020: I'm Just Not Seeing It With Drew....

Soooo, that was a Royal Rumble. Nothing more, nothing less. It was alright. We got a couple decent Rumble matches, a couple very strong singles bouts, and a couple not-good matches. If part of the Royal Rumble’s purpose was to get people excited for WrestleMania, then this show was a bit of a failure for me. The three big matches set up so far don’t do much for me at all, and one match I do actually want to see doesn’t appear to be happening. Why the hell not I couldn’t say.

The show kicked off with an overlong bells & whistles brawl between Roman Reigns and Baron Corbin. This pairing has never done anything for me and this was no different. They fought in the ring for several minutes and then brawled all around the stadium; since it’s such a big venue this undoubtedly helped bloat the running time. Near the end of the match Roman locked Corbin in a porto-crapper and tipped it over. Uhhh, okay. Then both guys ended up on top of a dugout, where Reigns finished him with the punch/spear combo. At least the finish was fun. This didn’t need more than 15 minutes but it got 21. Shane vs. Miz at Mania 35 was more entertaining. **

The women’s Rumble was shockingly early in the lineup. This was definitely better than last year’s women’s Rumble but not a great one, and the wrong woman won. I cannot fathom how they justify Charlotte winning here when the moment was so clearly Shayna’s. On the plus side though, Shayna was booked like a monster for her four minutes, and Bianca Belair looked like a huge star in her 33-minute run. Each woman tossed out 8. Other than that we got a helluva run from Beth Phoenix, who withstood a bad cut on the back of her head and made it to the final three after tossing out her bestie Natalya (payback for 2018), a lot of overly quick eliminations of NXT stars, and for some reason no Sasha Banks. Is she hurt? It came down to Shayna vs. Charlotte, and rather than go the logical route set up at Survivor Series they had Charlotte head scissor Shayna over the ropes to win. Sooo, Charlotte vs. Becky for the thousandth time? Oh joy. Or worse, Charlotte vs. Bayley? Or does Bayley drop her title to Shayna and we get yet another triple threat? Can’t we just have the Becky-Shayna match we’ve been waiting for? This Rumble was fine but I didn’t like the result at all. ***1/2

Thursday, January 23, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020 Preview & Predictions

It's the first WWE PPV of the new decade!  Let's get ready to Rumb-- wait, only five women have been announced for this thing?  Seriously WWE, let's get ready to Rumble, huh?  What the hell are you sitting on this info for?  Is it just gonna be 25 surprise participants?  When did this company forget how to hype a show?

The inaugural WWE extravaganza of the New Roarin' 20s is upon us, and like last year's Rumble it appears they've booked more matches than can possibly fit on the main show.  So get ready to see two or three of these bouts get bumped.  I for one can't believe how fast the last couple years have gone by.  The 2018 Rumble feels like it was one year ago.  The 2019 one feels like it just happened.  The 2000 Royal Rumble still feels like a state of the art event, as though it kicked off the current era.  And that was twenty goddamn years ago.  I'm gettin' too old for this shit.....

As is always the case nowadays, WWE's build for this event has been all over the place - sloppy, disorganized, and poorly communicated to us viewers.  Seriously, they've only announced five women for that Rumble match and there are basically no stories being told going in.  The men's Rumble at least has the Brock Lesnar "I'm so good I'm gonna enter at #1 and toss everyone out so there's no Title challenger" thing.  The women's Rumble has nothing.  What the fuck guys?  It's only the second-most important match on the show (maybe even first if Becky headlines 'Mania again).

Anyway, let's take a look at this card, which is not without interest but overloaded.

Sheamus vs. Chad Gable

I refuse to call Mr. Gable by the name they've given him.  Vince really is like a 12-year-old ("He's short, it's such good shit!").  I find this a very odd inclusion for the returning Sheamus.  Why not just put both of these guys in the Rumble?  This match hardly seems important enough to get its own slot.  Also why does Sheamus think Gable is the reason WWE sucks now?  Gable is one of several WWE stars who needs to get the fuck outta this place ASAP.

Pick: No way Sheamus is losing in his first big match back

US Championship: Andrade vs. Humberto Carrillo

This is a late addition for a championship that's been bouncing around like crazy lately.  Both these guys are hoping to take up Rey Mysterio's mantle as WWE's biggest Hispanic star.  Andrade has all the tools, to be sure.  Not sure yet about the other guy.  This match should be good but will also likely get moved to the pre-show.  Andrade should retain since he just won the belt, but maybe Humberto will help his stock even in defeat.

Pick: Andrade retains

Smackdown Women's Championship: Bayley vs. Lacey Evans

Well this is weird.  The former snobby heel vs. the former lovable babyface, roles now reversed.  I'll say this persona works much better for Lacey.  Why they didn't play up her military service to begin with I'm sure I don't know.  Let's hope she's improved in the ring over the last 12 months.  I don't think they have a WrestleMania season plan for the SD Women's Title at all, so this could go either way.  I'll pick the champ to retain I guess.

Pick: Bayley retains

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Movie Review: 1917

What a spectacular technical achievement is Sam Mendes's latest film 1917.  This simple story of a pair of World War I soldiers tasked with crossing No Man's Land to call off an impending British attack that will surely end in disaster is presented in a way that's so visceral and mesmerizing you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

Based loosely on stories told by Mendes's grandfather (a WWI soldier himself), 1917 is staged as one unbroken shot (there are edits here and there but except for one instance they're seamless), creating a sense of claustrophobia, tension and inevitability.  The film opens on our two protagonists dozing in a field, roused and called into the trenches to be briefed on their mission.  From the opening moments the camera drags us into the action, and for the next two hours we're never given a reprieve.  The technique forces the audience to become participants in these harrowing events, as Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield crawl through corpse-laden fields of mud and barbed wire, navigate abandoned German trenches, dodge crashing aircraft, and so on.  I won't say more about the story, as it's best to go in cold.  Were these events presented in a traditional way this film would perhaps not be as engaging, but that's sort of the point.  Like Saving Private Ryan, 1917 is about the "how," moreso than the "what."  It is designed to make the audience experience the film rather than just watch it.

The film's lead actor George MacKay gives an understated but note-perfect performance, reluctant to be a part of the mission at first, then determined to complete it at all costs, no matter the increased weight heaped upon his shoulders.  It's not a flashy performance but it's exactly the right one for this film, and mostly conveyed with facial expressions and physicality.

Friday, January 10, 2020

TV Review: Dracula (2020)

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Sherlock fame are back with another television take on an iconic character, this time in the form of a three-episode adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula.  And well, it's very good, but it's not Sherlock.  Or Dracula really. 

Image result for dracula netflix

The miniseries closely follows certain beats from the novel but deviates wildly from others.  Some of these inventions are effective, some not so much.  As someone who's been waiting three decades for a truly faithful screen adaptation (I love Francis Ford Coppola's version, and it's pretty close but still not totally authentic), I'm always vexxed when someone puts out a new Dracula film or TV series that almost compulsively reinvents the wheel.  First off, the book got this story right the first time; Stoker's version is absolutely loaded with chilling moments of dread.  Second, at a certain point the idea of "doing something different" is no longer doing something different.  If everyone is radically changing the story, your "bold new take" is neither bold nor new.  In this case Moffat and Gatiss start out with Stoker's material but diverge within the first half hour, to the point that by the end of the first episode we're in a totally different narrative space.  By the third episode we've strayed so far (aside from some characters and moments that parallel the novel) that the show can hardly even be called Dracula.

But enough about the show's lack of faithfulness.  Is it any good?  Yes, it's quite well-made.  As with Sherlock, the writing is crisp and darkly humorous at times (though often the dialogue is far too modern sounding), and information is doled out gradually, creating some shocking plot twists.  The performances are all strong, particularly charismatic Finnish actor Claes Bang as the Count (who's written a little too charmingly funny for my taste but that's not his fault), a suave, sardonic and pragmatic vampire who takes on the skills and personality traits of his victims and thus has to be discriminating about who he feeds on.  Another standout is Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha, an amalgam of a classic character and a new one, who serves as Dracula's crafty and resilient nemesis.  The cinematography and art direction are mostly impressive and atmospheric, often mirroring that of Coppola's version (though they sometimes betray the modest budget of a TV series as opposed to a feature film), and several of the visual choices are obvious nods to nearly every previous Dracula film (as well as moments that recall The Shining, The Fly, and Interview With the Vampire).  If nothing else this series certainly rewards sharp-eyed fans of the genre.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Night Two Review: Naito Reigns Supreme

If Night One of WrestleKingdom 14 was like an album A-side featuring two monster hit singles, Night Two was the B-side with deeper cuts but more consistent quality from song to song.  Of the eight matches on this show I'd only rate one below three stars, and while there was nothing on the level of the Ospreay-Takahashi or Okada-Ibushi classics from Night One (which would've been nothing short of miraculous), we got multiple ****+ bouts and a huge climactic moment.

Click HERE for Night One...

The main card kicked off with part 2 of Jushin Liger's retirement, as he teamed with Naoki Sano against Ryu Lee and brand new Jr. Heavyweight Champ Hiromu Takahashi.  This was fine, but nowhere near as fun as Liger's 8-man tag the night before, and at 12 minutes it felt longer than necessary.  I'd have liked a Liger-Takahashi singles match much better, but maybe the company didn't want to make Takahashi work back-to-back singles bouts.  After some decent back-and-forth, Taka pinned Liger with the Time Bomb finish.  The crowd was pretty dejected at Liger's loss, but it was the right move; Liger passed the torch to the new Jr. champion.  **1/4

Things ramped up quickly with the second match, for the Jr. Tag Titles, as Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo (both working as fantastic douchebag heels) faced Sho and Yoh.  The bad guys cheated like crazy and did a ton of unnecessary posturing to draw great heat, as RPG3K played the underdog babyfaces to the hilt.  Late in the match, during a ref distraction, ELP hit Sho with a low blow (a common move for ELP), only to find that Sho was wearing a cup.  RPG3K then hit a double-stomp/Shock Arrow tandem move on ELP to win the match and the belts.  This bout was super-fun and high-energy, and a great mix of athleticism and babyface vs. heel dynamics.  ***3/4 

The most unusual bout of the night was Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Sanada for the British Heavyweight Title, a mat grappling showcase where Sanada went hold-for-hold with the technical wizard.  Zack as usual had some great counters, like catching Sanada's standing moonsault into an arm hold.  Late in the match Sanada snared the Skull End several times (Zack is perfectly built to be put in this hold) only for Zack to escape or counter.  Finally after a series of cradle near-falls, Zack caught Sanada in a European clutch to retain.  I was shocked Sanada didn't win here and I wonder what the plan is after this.  Fun little technical match.  ***1/2

Monday, January 6, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Night One Review: Okada and Ibushi Make Art

The first-ever two-part WrestleKingdom is in the books, and it was overall a helluva weekend of pro wrestling.  The two shows played like a double album of sorts, with the first disc containing by far the two best tracks, and the second disc being a more solid overall album.  To break things up I'll review each show separately, so stay tuned for my Night Two review coming soon.

Night One took a while to really get going, thanks to three consecutive 8-man tags.  I would've liked another singles match in one of these slots rather than just trying to get everyone on the main card.  But the three openers were inoffensive at worst and were kept short.  The first of these was the best, thanks to Jushin Liger and his old-school pals (plus Taguchi) having one last romp to show off their stuff.  Everyone in the match looked great for their age.  After nine minutes Taguchi hit Liger with a Buma ye (that's Nakamura's finisher except with a hip attack instead of a knee), followed by a Dodon for the three-count.  I'd have had Liger win the Night One match, because why not?  He's in there with mostly other old-timers anyway, there's no torch to pass in this match.  But this was a fun opener.  **1/2

Next was Suzuki-Gun (led this time by Zack Sabre Jr. to hype his Night Two singles match) vs. LIJ (minus Naito of course).  This was technically the best of the 8-man tags but still too short to amount to much.  The story was Zack vs. Sanada, and Zack won the match by tying Bushi up in knots while smiling sadistically at his Night Two challenger.  This was fine.  **1/4

The final 8-man pitted Goto, Ishii, Yano and Yoshi-Hashi vs. Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi and NEVER Champ Kenta, in another match to hype a Night Two singles bout.  This was pretty basic, with the biggest spot being Ishii hitting a hard-fought brainbuster on Fale.  After all eight men started brawling in and around the ring, Goto hit the ushigoroshi followed by the GTR on Takahashi for the win.  Another serviceable but forgettable undercard match.  **

The 2019 Enuffa.com Pro-Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to Enuffa.com's 6th Annual Year-End Awards

2019 was, putting it mildly, an interesting year in pro wrestling.  For the first time in nearly two decades, the industry juggernaut WWE faced real North American competition, in the form of Tony Khan and Cody Rhodes's brainchild All Elite Wrestling.  An upstart company that promised to be more fan-and-employee-friendly, that promised to make wins and losses matter, and that promised to present a more sports-like atmosphere than WWE's three-ring circus, AEW launched its weekly TNT program Dynamite to mostly positive reviews and solid ratings, winning the first seven head-to-head weeks (It's been a see-saw battle since then) against the revamped NXT show.  Even more impressive was the near-instant sellouts of the company's first two PPV events, Double or Nothing and All Out (the latter of which saw upwards of 80,000 people vying for seats.  The company isn't without its flaws, as was expected for a brand-new promotion, but with Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, Cody, Chris Jericho, and WWE deserter Jon Moxley as their core main event crew, plus a host of promising young stars, AEW is a breath of fresh air in what had long been a stagnant North American wrestling landscape.  If nothing else their existence will hopefully force WWE to put more effort into their creative and worker harder to keep employee morale up.

AEW's top stars sadly came at the expense of NJPW, who found themselves in a bit of a lurch immediately following WrestleKingdom 13.  Amazingly though, as they'd done in 2016, the company adjusted quickly and put the focus on a crop of new and up-and-coming stars, selling out Madison Square Garden (the first non-WWE promotion to play there since 1961) and once again delivering loads of great matches and moments.  Impact's parent company Anthem purchased AXS TV, which also cost NJPW their weekly American time slot, but I don't doubt New Japan will find a workaround.

As for NXT, WWE's third brand had maybe their best creative year, delivering multiple yardstick TakeOver specials and amassing one of the best rosters in the business.  The AEW situation has been great for NXT, as the company is now motivated to treat the former developmental brand as a full-fledged part of the whole.  Given how badly the main roster squandered all the 2019 call-ups, I've about gotten to the point that I hope no one from NXT ever gets called up again.

Speaking of the main roster, there's probably never been such a collection of wrestling talent so badly used, ever.  RAW and Smackdown are bursting with great athletes and somehow they have no idea how to utilize any of them.  Pushes were bungled (perhaps intentionally in some cases), payoff matches were poorly booked, undeserving people were elevated and overexposed, angles were dropped without warning, PPV lineups were thrown together last-minute.  2019 provided so much more evidence (as though we even needed it) that the industry passed Vince McMahon by a long time ago and he needs to step down.  It's gotten so embarrassing I can't imagine how bad things will be in ten years if he's still there.  I skipped six main roster PPVs in 2019.  I haven't done that since 2010, and that was back when you had to pay for them.  For someone like me (a WWE Network subscriber since Week One) to not bother watching nearly half the company's PPV events in a given year, things have to be in really rough shape.  2020 isn't looking very promising for the red and blue brands.  Were it not for NXT I'd have likely dropped my Network subscription already.

But enough grim news.  Let's do something fun.  Let's hand out some pretend awards!

Friday, January 3, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Preview & Predictions

A new decade dawns.  A new Tokyo Dome extravaganza looms.  A new kind of supercard is born.

Welcome to a special edition of PPV Predictions, here at Enuffa.com!  It's the beginning of a new year, and that means it's time for NJPW to drop a 500-megaton PPV Awesome-Bomb on all of us.  This year's WrestleKingdom is a two-parter, and if all goes well it could be the template going forward, not only for New Japan but for WWE's WrestleMania and perhaps other super-shows.  WrestleKingdom 14 will take place on January 4th and 5th, with 16 main card matches plus four pre-show bouts over the two days.  The first night is built around the huge G1 Climax A-Block rematch, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Title, plus B-block rematch Jay White vs. Tetsuya Naito for the Intercontinental Title, while Night Two will see the winners of those two matches face off to become the first-ever Double Champion.  This pair of shows should have far-reaching consequences for NJPW's Big Four guys and will set the stage for the company's attempted US expansion in 2020.  My biggest hope for New Japan in 2020 is that they partner with AEW.  Both promotions would benefit enormously; AEW could use New Japan's top stars to boost their own ratings, while New Japan's US footprint would be greatly expanded by their stars appearing on TNT.  It's a win-win.  Make it happen.

But enough about that stuff, let's predict some WrestleKingdom matches...

Night One

Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask vs. Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi

This eight-man tag will be Liger's penultimate match and is mostly a throwback bout for the old-timers.  It's all about the nostalgia, and I expect Taguchi will do most of the heavy lifting.  It won't go very long and probably won't earn a ton of stars, but it should be a fun little pre-sendoff for Liger.

Pick: Team Liger obviously has to win

Evil, Sanada, Shingo Takagi & Bushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & El Desperado

Of the throwaway matches on these two shows, this has the most potential.  There's a ton of talent in this match and a strong faction vs. faction vibe.  It's also the only main card match for Suzuki, Evil, Shingo and Bushi, which is very sad.  That's actually really wrong when you think about it.  Anyway, hopefully these guys will get enough time to make the match count and be set up for something bigger in February.

Pick: I'll go with LIJ

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Kenta, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi

Ishii is another great talent being criminally shortchanged on these two cards.  You mean to tell me you couldn't find a singles match, out of sixteen main card slots, for fucking ISHII?  This match is all about previewing Kenta vs. Goto on Night Two.  It'll be brief and energetic, with some good hard-hitting exchanges.

Pick: Chaos

Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Review: Marriage Story (2019)

With his new Netflix-produced film Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach has crafted an emotional powderkeg.  Starring Scarlet Johanssen and Adam Driver as a 30-something couple going through an ugly divorce, Marriage Story is an understated, at times upsetting, family drama that shows us the best and worst of a generally likable husband and wife.

The film doesn't exactly take sides, though the husband Charlie spends the first act mostly being blindsided after his wife Nicole hires a high-powered attorney (a stellar Laura Dern), who convinces her client that Charlie needs to be punished for an extramarital affair and his to-a-fault devotion to his work.  Nicole wants a divorce because she feels like she has nothing of her own in the marriage; Charlie is a successful New York theater director and she is his leading lady, but she's got a television pilot on the table in LA, setting up an impasse.  Initially the pair agree to an amicable, lawyer-free divorce, but Nicole brings in Dern's shark, and the couple's friendliness devolves quickly.

The second act largely involves Charlie flying back and forth, trying to balance west coast time with his son Henry (Nicole, via her lawyer, is threatening to take away custody) with an upcoming Broadway run for his play.  Forced to hire his own attorney, Charlie initially consults a rival shark (played by a scenery-chewing Ray Liotta) but realizes he can't afford $900 an hour plus a $25k retainer, and instead hires a semi-retired, thrice divorced lawyer played by Alan Alda, who's seen the process "bring out the worst in good people" and urges Charlie to acquiese to Nicole's demands.  Despite this obviously overwhelming pressure, compounded by Henry's apparent lack of interest in spending quality time with him, Charlie mostly tries to roll with the punches and make the best of things.  But the cracks begin to show when it becomes apparent that he'll need to establish permanent residence in Los Angeles or risk losing Henry altogether.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Parents' Night mINi: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Welcome to a special short bonus PNI episode, or Parents' Night mINi, as Kelly & Justin discuss the beloved TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas!  We'll talk about our history with this special, why it's still required annual viewing, the magic we used to feel at Christmastime (that sadly goes away as an adult), and Linus's habit of thumb sucking...

Crack open a cold drink and enjoy this special episode!  Don't forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE!

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Movie Review: Star Wars - The Rise of Skywalker

And with that, the Skywalker Saga has come to a bittersweet end.  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth episode in the series and the eleventh live-action Star Wars film overall, has garnered pretty shockingly tepid reviews, but not from this guy.  I liked it.  A lot.

JJ Abrams is back to close the trilogy he opened, given the unenviable task of reconciling the story threads in his safe crowdpleaser The Force Awakens with Rian Johnson's subversive, divisive (but pretty excellent) The Last Jedi.  Given the divergent approaches of the two directors - one offers total deference to the original trilogy, the other trolls fanboys somewhat - it's kind of miraculous that Abrams was able to weave it all together in a satisfying way.  This film ties up not only this trilogy, but the nine overall episodes, lending meaning and explanation to elements of TFA and TLJ, and striking a through-line of sorts all the way back to the events of the prequels.  Several reviewers have complained of JJ retconning some of Rian's narrative choices, but there's really only one element that could even be called retconning, and only, as Obi-Wan once put it "from a certain point of view."  JJ provides answers to all the important questions raised in the first two films and resolves the dramatic tension pretty beautifully overall.

As always I won't go into spoilers, and to that end I won't even reveal many plot details; to describe the main story arc would be saying too much (Few blockbusters can be described that way, so kudos to Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio for such ingenuity).  A more fitting way to discuss the story is to talk about the characters.  Rey and Kylo, the heart of this trilogy and two of the most compelling Star Wars characters ever created, confront their destinies, their choices, and each other, with stirring emotional results (Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver once again deliver wonderful, show stealing performances).  Poe Dameron further grows into his role as a natural leader and we learn more about his past.  Finn the former Stormtrooper finally embraces his latent heroism and becomes an inspiration to others.  We get a few new characters, one of which I found an adorable throwback to some of the creatures in the original trilogy.  There are some major story turns, some expected, some not.  And of course we get the obligatory Star Wars action set pieces, though this film is surprisingly driven more by characters than by action, which I appreciated; characters and emotion.  I found myself legitimately choked up four or five times during this movie, and that's another testament to Abrams, Johnson and the various screenwriters for creating characters that are easily invested in.

Was the movie perfect?  No, but let's be honest, none of them are.  TROS, like every Star Wars film, has clunky expository dialogue, some scenes that aren't given enough time to breathe, and a few plot contrivances.  But none of these minor gripes were enough to take me out of the mood.  Like the original trilogy, the characters are so relatable and compelling, and the pure filmmaking so visually stunning and immersive, they carried me through whatever storytelling flaws were present.  I daresay TROS was a stronger third act for this trilogy than Return of the Jedi was for that one. 

Whatever the fanbase's complaints, and they always have plenty, The Rise of Skywalker is another very strong entry in the Star Wars mythos, lovingly crafted by an obviously devoted fan aiming to guide the series to safe and satisfying landing.  Could Abrams have taken more risks?  Yes.  Would I be interested in seeing how Johnson would've handled this chapter?  Absolutely.  But for the most part TROS does a very admirable job of bringing it all home and answering our myriad questions.  All in all, this trilogy has been a breath of fresh Star Wars air after the disastrous prequels, and I can't wait to watch them back-to-back-to-back (If I ever find seven consecutive free hours to do so).  The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting, affecting conclusion to this 40-plus-year-old saga.

I give the film ***1/2 out of ****.

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Parents' Night In #27: It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the Greatest Christmas Movie

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, yadda yadda yadda!  Justin & Kelly are back to discuss their favorite Christmas movie, the one that makes them wanna bawl their eyes out at least a dozen times, Frank Capra's masterpiece It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed!

It's a Wonderful Life
has been a part of our lives since we were kids, and decades later we've found new ways to relate to this film about a good man who falls into despair.  It's a must-watch for us every holiday season and we're happy to share our thoughts with all of you!

Sit back, relax, grab a drink, and laugh and cry with us as we watch It's a Wonderful Life!

And don't forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE!

Thanks for reading - subscribe to our mailing list, and follow us on Twitter, MeWe, Mix, Facebook and YouTube!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wrestling Do-Overs: The Invasion Angle, part 4 (King of the Ring 2001)

It's time to build to the 2001 King of the Ring!  Check out Part 3 if you missed it....

To read this series from the beginning, click HERE

King of the Ring

The next night on RAW, Vince announces that he is seeking legal action against Bischoff and WCW, and once again assures the audience that WCW talent will never again appear on WWF television.  Shane McMahon interrupts and tells Vince he is embarrassed by how badly Vince has handled this crisis.  Had Shane been in charge of the WWF, he'd have smoked out the WCW contigent long ago and challenged them to an all-out war.  "Dammit, you're Vincent Kennedy McMahon!  Are you scared WCW might actually win?  Over the collection of talent we have??"  Vince looks down, despondent, unsure what to do.  Shane slaps him across the face and begins to berate him, which brings out Kurt Angle to Vince's defense.  "How dare you slap this man?  He is your father, and my friend!  Anyone who questions Vince's manhood will have to answer to me!"  Vince tries to calm the situation down but Angle jumps on Shane and pummels him.  Vince pulls Angle off and yells at him.  Angle says, comically, "I was helping you!"

The KOTR tournament starts, and plays out mostly like it did in real life.  Over the next couple weeks it boils down to Angle, Edge, Christian and Rhyno.

Steve Austin petitions Vince for another match against Booker, but Vince unequivocally refuses to sanction another match with any WCW talent.  Instead he sets up a gauntlet match, with Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Undertaker, Kane, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.  The match starts with Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy.  Jeff wins with a Twist of Fate after seven minutes.  Then Kane enters and Jeff beats him with a Swanton after six minutes.  Triple H is next, and he gets caught by surprise with a rollup after three minutes.  Jericho is next and he dispatches an exhausted Jeff with a Lionsault after five minutes.  Undertaker is next, and they have a helluva big man-little man match, where Jericho counters a Last Ride with an over-the-top sunset flip after ten minutes.  Finally Benoit enters, and it's a classic technical match.  After twelve minutes Benoit hits a German suplex and the ref counts three.  But its revealed that both men's shoulders were down.  The show goes off the air with no official decision.

Over the coming weeks Angle pesters Vince to let him fight Shane at King of the Ring.  Vince says, "No, you're already in the tournament."  Angle kisses up to Vince, saying what Shane said was way out of line.  Shane cuts another promo saying he would love to fight Angle.  To make it interesting he proposes that if he wins, he gets control over the WWF, and will deal with WCW in the most aggressive manner possible, which is what Vince should've done if he really had "grapefruits."  Vince finally says, "You think you have the grapefruits to beat an Olympic gold medalist AND run this company?  Fine!  But whatever Angle does to you is out of my hands."  Shane agrees, and also proposes a Street Fight, so there's no excuses.