Category: Media

(No Spoilers) NXT Takeover, Not SummerSlam

This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.


I am currently avoiding all spoilers for tonight’s NXT Takeover. Up until earlier this week, I would’ve watched it tonight and WWE’s second biggest pay-per-view of the year, but I finally decided that my disgust with WWE’s current stories was too much to waste any more money on the WWE Network.

Thankfully NXT gets uploaded to Hulu!

Not that I have followed NXT any closer. The transition for some of my favorite wrestlers to the main roster has soured me on paying too much attention to what develops in “developmental”. Still, it is the better wrestling show and that more than makes up for the main show wasting my time. Every NXT Takeover I have ever watched has been fantastic and I am excited to have folks over to see it tomorrow rather than SummerSlam.

Here are a few reasons why I decided to skip SummerSlam this year:

Whether Roman Wins or Lose, I Lose

This whole Brock Lesnar story is tired. For a brief, fleeting moment they had my interest when they teased taking Paul Heyman from him. Then they threw that away for no reason at all.

Maybe it will payoff with something, but I am ready for Roman to win the title so we can move on entirely from the Brock Lesnar era. I am still in an “anyone but Roman” mood but even more than that I am in a “Less Lesnar, please” mood. The two of them are the weakest part of the weekly recaps I read for RAW and Smackdown.

Dean Too Soon

Similar to walking back the Lesnar/Heyman split, I thought having Dean Ambrose come back on the RAW before SummerSlam was a waste. I miss the surprises and unless he turns on Seth after helping him beat Dolph, then it looks like “more of the same” to me.

No Asuka

Asuka has been a household favorite of ours ever since she debuted on NXT. Having a bad ass hot Asian woman wrestling was a dream come true for all of us. She has been wasted in WWE though and nothing proves that more than leaving her off the SummerSlam card altogether.

Rusev On the Pre-Show

Rusev is perfect. He is also on the pre-show which costs nothing. Why waste money on SummerSlam when I can get someone like Rusev for free?

Why NXT instead if you don’t watch it?

The card is stacked with some incredibly entertaining wrestlers. While I may not be up to speed on the story, story in general matters less on NXT. Unlike the main roster, matches are rarely filler and are often the first time wrestlers get to really face one another. That makes everything feel fresh. It isn’t a month’s worth of tag matches and weak singles matches. It’s one really good match on the biggest show of the quarter.

Also, there’s a hot Asian pirate and a couple of follicly-enhanced handsome manbeasts. I can’t get that on SummerSlam, that’s for sure!

NPR’s 200 Greatest Songs By 21st Century Women

This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.


Less time to write a complete post today, so I thought I would share a link instead.

Late last month, NPR Music posted a top 200 list of women performers from the last 18 years. As always from NPR Music, they have great taste. I am stunned by the number of songs and artists I had never heard of but am so grateful to be exposed to now.

I haven’t finished reviewing it all yet, but check it out and let me know if you find anything new to add to your playlist!

Press Play, Repeat: Punch Brother’s All Ashore

This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.


By chance the other night we were driving, no intention of going straight home but no other destination either. After dinner, I had queued up a quick playlist of “New Releases” On Google Play Music. Most of the songs were okay, but when Punch Brother’s “All Ashore” came on, mixed in with the quiet night drive and neighborhoods I had never seen before, it was perfect.

Diane didn’t find it to her tastes though she agreed with me about the quality of the song’s musicality. It has a relaxing appeal and an introspective charm that pulls you into its depths. I won’t pretend to say I know precisely what the lyricist intended with its imagery, but between the pickin’ and the singin’, I feel something deep within me stir.

I imagine many of my friends would hear this and say, “That sounds like your kind of music!” It wasn’t always though. As a kid, my dad used to drag me to various bluegrass festivals. In truth, they were little more than places for fans of that kind music to gather in their RVs and drink amongst kindred spirits. I remember being put in charge of concessions, which was great because no one cared when I grabbed a Snickers for myself.

Despite this “experience”, I didn’t take to bluegrass though I have come around more in the last five years or so.

After “All Ashore” I had to hear more of this album. A good friend of mine is a big fan of Punch Brothers, yet previous attempts to get me to listen to them didn’t. “All Ashore”, both the song and the album, was the exact opposite: for the last week+ this is the only thing I have listened to. Press play, repeat.

It is a far more progressive album that you might imagine at first listen. Take, for example, their song “Jumbo” which may or may not refer to a certain World Leader’s son of the same name:

I did a little research on this one, which led me to a truly awful review that, like all music reviews, used more words of such a size and complexity that even a philosopher would sweat at trying to get them past her editor. I didn’t have to make an account to comment though because everyone disagreed. This album is perfect and “Jumbo” is one of its best ear worms.

My absolute favorite track though is “It’s All Part of the Plan”, a rumination on power in the modern world. I enjoy music with a message and the song seems to me to be about the devil being replaced by elite businessman. Some of you out there may blush at the blatant class warfare, but I find it difficult to argue with lines like:

Write me a law and I’ll rise above
And give me hell and I’ll make a hell of a deal

Here you go:

What album(s) have you all been using to cope with 2018?

 

Now Playing: Anchors Aweigh (1945)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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Ahoy, 1945! We arrive back in the land of the color motion picture. This time for “Anchors Aweigh”, a feature length fever dream and commercial for the United States Navy. Stars include Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and of course the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. All aboard for a romantic, musical, comedy adventure!

And that is all the excitement and enthusiasm I can possibly muster. This film has not aged well. And, unfortunately, no one has seen fit to release a cut that leaves all the extraneous, contrite, and predictable nonsense on the cutting room floor.

But I guess a movie has got to have some kind of plot …

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Gene Kelly is the star, but Frank is the voice.

“Anchors Aweigh” stars Gene Kelly, the so called “biggest wolf in the Navy”, who sings very questionable things about women, implies the romantic female lead is a slut who has had sex with nearly every man in the US Navy, and even “comedicly” hints at violence in a song about not getting a kiss from a woman who doesn’t want to kiss you that you want to kiss you. And despite all of that, Gene Kelly is still charming.

His co-star, ole blue eyes white dragon Frank Sinatra is less so. Everytime the man is on the screen, I worry he will “aw shucks” his way back off it. Yet, despite having the spine of an Andy Griffth extra he has the voice of an angel. It is incredible really. Sinatra effortlessly hits all of the deep notes in his songs. His dancing is subpar, of course, but this is a movie with Gene Kelly in it, so why would anyone else bother to keep up?

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This movie’s “kenny” was acceptable enough, even if he was a need bastard who never goes to school and knows how to run out on his babysitter (who keeps getting a job for some reason …).

“Anchors Aweigh” is a romantic comedy, but the plot is paper thin and horribly contrived. It is really more of an excuse to get from dance number to musical number and vice versa. There is no point in getting invested in any of the characters, and I don’t see modern audiences rooting for a man like Gene Kelly’s Joe even as he leaves behind his womanizing ways for true love with a dame he’s only known for two days.

Skipping over all the bits I hated (the little kid, Kathryn Grayson as the female lead, the plot, the ending), there’s a lot of fun bits of entertainment scattered throughout the film. It is strange to see a movie like this as its only real purpose is to feature two of the best known performers of the time who are still renowned today. No one went to see “Anchors Aweigh” for anchors aweighing. No – they went for Gene Kelly dancing and Frank Sinatra singing.

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Do less drugs.

The best thing about seeing this film is finally getting the context of Gene Kelly’s acid trip of a dance sequence where he dances and sings with Jerry from the cartoon Tom & Jerry. And that happens after he tells Mr. Owl he is going to bring singing and dancing back to the other woodland creatures! Even with context, there is no explaining the scene’s existence. It is by far the best thing about “Anchors Aweigh” because most romantic comedies are conservative films just looking for an easy payday. This film tried to do a little bit more and I commend it for it!

So, should you also see this movie if you haven’t already? No. I’d catch the best parts on YouTube and then go listen to Frank Sinatra after he filled out a little bit.

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Though you can progressively spin the movie’s plot with the big twist being that the female lead never needed the help of two strangers for her singing career and the the Hollywood suit she wanted to impress is super nice, it really felt more like they just ran out of run time and didn’t want any hanging plot threads.

Now Playing: Gaslight (1944)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


More frequently recently, I have noticed an uptick in the term “gaslighting”. Until seeing 1944’s movie “Gaslight” I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of its meaning. Now, after seeing the movie from which the term is derived (well, you could probably argue it comes from the play the movie was based on), I understand completely.

“Gaslight” stars Ingrid Bergman (previously seen in “Casablanca”) and Charles Boyer (whom we knew of only from I Love Lucy). The film begins with the murder of a world-famous opera singer, Alice Alquist, whose body is discovered by her only living relative and niece, Paula (Bergman). Paula moves from her London home with her aunt to stay with a family friend in Italy. She stays in Italy for ten years before she meets and falls in love with the mysterious Gregory (Boyer). After two weeks of courtship, they elope and, at his suggestion, move back to her aunt’s home in London which she inherited and left abandoned.

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I know this look is supposed to be “young and innocent” but it really does Bergman no favors.

Other cast members joining Bergman and Boyer include Joseph Cotton. We previously saw him in “Citizen Kane” as one of my standout favorites. He also co-starred with Audrey Hepburn in the stage version of “The Philadelphia Story”, another movie we have watched on this list. Cotton’s Mid-Atlantic/Virginian accent does him no favors in “Gaslight” as a man who supposedly works at Scotland Yard. We also get Dame May Whitty who plays yet another old British woman though, unlike in “Mrs. Minniver”, she’s a pleasant, albeit nosy, old British woman. And finally, we have a very young Angela Lansbury as an uncouth maid. In our household, Dame Lansbury is best known for her voicework in Disney’s animated “Beauty and the Beast” as well as reruns of Murder, She Wrote.

“Gaslight” is an odd movie to watch. It works well enough as a thriller and the acting is very good, but it suffers from predictability and several plot holes. As you may have guessed despite not seeing the film, Gregory (Boyer) murdered Paula’s aunt and wanted to return to the scene of his crime as Paula’s new husband to search for jewels that were never recovered. To keep her under his control, Gregory immediately begins a campaign of psychological warfare to break down Paula’s belief in reality and in herself. He does this so he can eventually send her away to an asylum while he controls her estate and the home in which the jewels are presumably still hidden.

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Lansbury as a slutty (for 1940’s standards) maid? I would’ve never guessed!

Despite Charles Boyer’s ability to mesmerize even me with his odd obsession with the locations of paintings and brooches, the plot was silly at best. It is never clear if Boyer loved Paula’s aunt or how she got the jewels from him in the first place. The fact that he spends six or more months going upstairs to search for the jewels in secret and only finds them when most convenient to the plot only adds more to the silliness. The movie would’ve been a lot better if a) a rewrite with a focus on logical consistency, b) add some actual red herrings so it felt more like a mystery, c) announce that Gregory is the villain early on and let the movie focus on the horror of psychological drama when inflicted by someone who knows what they are doing when inflicting it.

Outside of being an excellent example of exactly what the term “gaslighting” means, I thought “Gaslight” was forgettable when it easily could have been the opposite. Bergman’s Paula has zero agency, so the only real star here is Charles Boyer’s Gregory. More insight into his character or his motivation (beyond “derp I love diamonds”) could have made this a psychological thriller worth rewatching. Sadly, we get “Scooby Doo if written by a psychology grad student” instead.

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I hope to see more of Charles Boyer. I wish he would’ve had a turn as Dracula or some other horror villain. He has the eyes and the charm for it!

 

Now Playing: Casablanca (1942)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Casablanca Poster

I have long avoided watching “Casablanca” and I wish now I hadn’t. I was under the impression it was a romance. I thought star-crossed lovers would make googly eyes at one another and kiss their way through a forgettable plot. I imagined “Twilight” both before and after “Twilight” existed. Now that I have forced myself to watch it, I really regret my preconceived notions of the film.

1942’s “Casablanca” stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and (most importantly for reasons we will get to later) Claude Rains. It takes place during World War II in Casablanca, Morocco, while the city is under free France rule.

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Bogart again. Oh joy.

The setting largely revolves around Rick’s Café Américain, owned and operated by Rick (Bogart), a mysterious American expatriate with a penchant for fighting for the losing side in any war he participates in. At the outset of the story, he makes claims to Captain Louis Renault (Rains) that he is neutral, but the French prefect of the police in Casablanca thinks he is more sentimental than he lets on.

For me, the most fascinating and enjoyable aspect of “Casablanca” is its setting. The city functions as a neutral territory for all sorts of Europeans trying to flee the encroach of Nazi Germany. There, they wait to be flown out, but because of visa concerns and the black market cost to resolve said concerns, most end up waiting there indefinitely.

Rick’s Café Américain in particular is the place everyone goes to for a drink, to gamble, or listen to music. In particular, they listen to Sam, an African American and friend of Rick’s who left Paris with him. Sam, played by Dooley Wilson, is the first African American actor with any real role we have encountered on this list who was not playing a slave. I doubt he was the first ever actor to have that distinction in American cinema, but it was refreshing to see someone of color with some degree of agency all their own even if his role was limited.

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The dueling anthem scene was fantastic and perfectly captured why this setting is so much more compelling than most everything else in the movie for me.

When I first realized what was happening in the film’s setting, I instantly thought it would make a great D&D setting for an adventure. There aren’t too many films I can think of off the top of my head that feel this unique in just where they are set alone. The fact that the film was contemporary to World War II and that many of the actors were Europeans who had escaped the tyranny of Nazi Germany made it all the more impactful. For its historical importance alone, I think “Casablanca” is a significant and important film that more people like us should’ve seen before we turned 30.

Beyond the setting, the characters themselves are all interesting. Bogart and Bergman both give great performances. I am already tiring of “Bogart playing Bogart”, but this was the first time seeing Bergman. Diane remarked at how attractive she was, especially when compared to other leading ladies we have seen thus far, since she had a fuller face and wasn’t all angles. With a little less romance in the script, I think the character could’ve been phenomenal, but Bergman does well with what she is given.

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This is the most French picture I could get of the definitely not French Claude Rains.

My absolute favorite character is Captain Louis Renault played by English actor Claude Rains. We previously saw Rains as Prince John in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Here, he plays a Frenchman who is as cynical as he is unscrupulous. Everytime he was on screen, he would slime out a laugh from me. My favorite scene was when the Germans forced him to shut down the nightclub and he had to come up with a reason on-the-fly to do so. Without skipping a beat, he shouts that he has discovered illegal gambling just before being handed his gambling winnings for the night. Through and through Renault is a scoundrel, but Rains plays him so well that you can only love his cheek and nerve despite abusing his power at every turn.

My second favorite and Diane’s first was Carl, a waiter played by S. Z. Sakall. Though he gets relatively few scenes and even fewer lines, his facial expressions alone were enough to make him memorable.

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Duty over love.

As for the romance angle itself, it was hard to really care about whether the characters were truly in love or not. For both of us, that entire subplot took a backseat to world-at-war setting and gravitas of everything else. Scenes with dueling national anthems with people expressing their love of country had more impact than the will he/won’t he nature of Rick’s actions. The love triangle also barely factored in since the other male in the triangle, Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid) barely had time to pay attention to it while he was doing far more important things.

It didn’t help that we both knew how it ended. Bogart’s final speech to Bergman before she boards the plane has been quoted endlessly in pop culture. Without seeing the film, I knew it. Again I find remarkable what lasts from these older movies regardless of their historical importance. That speech, while worthy of quotation, failed to compare to everything else going on in the movie and in the world at the time of its filming.

I will not give “Casablanca” the distinction of being my favorite film on this list, but I would watch it again. It manages to be horrifying, humorous, and historical all simultaneously. I wish more time was spent on stories like this rather than big budget war movies about World War II. It’s amazing how epic in scope such a small setting could be when the whole world is at war.

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I would let Sam play it again.

Now Playing: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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It struck me while watching “Mrs. Miniver” that the film was incredibly current for its time. It is rare to watch a movie about an event that is ongoing and rarer still that event be as important as World War II. 1942’s film “Mrs. Miniver” follows the Miniver family living outside of London, England, at the outset of the war, the Blitz, and directly references the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. Despite its focus on the English in World War II, “Mrs. Miniver” was an American movie rushed to theaters by President Roosevelt as a propaganda film to stir up more Americans to support fighting the Germans.

It was also one of the most boring movies I have watched. As stirring as its speeches and as important as its history, “Mrs. Miniver” spends too much time on romance and on the idyllic lives of the pre-war English middle class and aristocracy. In a way, it reminds me of “Gone with the Wind” only less exciting.

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Greer Garson was adorable.

It is a shame too because the movie is well-acted. Mrs. Miniver is played by Greer Garson, who’s soft eyes look straight through the heart of everyone she meets. Later scenes in the movie, after her initial introduction as a vapid consumer housewife, bring home the tragedy of war even if the movie takes too long getting to them.

The rest of the cast is also very good. I especially liked Walter Pidgeon as the husband of Mrs. Miniver, Clem Miniver. He has a kind of old sitcom dad vibe to him throughout the film, despite there being no laugh track and even less to laugh about. An early scene where he and his wife have dinner and slowly work up the courage to admit to one another what they wasted money on that day felt like a scene from “I Love Lucy”.

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“I Love Lucy” in a bomb shelter would be a welcome twist on the sitcom though.

Other than the children who were terrible by default, I initially hated their son and the film’s romantic lead, Vin Miniver, played by Richard Ney. Vin is initially introduced as an Oxford student who cannot stop talking about the troubles of classes in English society. I found it very humorous how he wanted to stand up for the middle class against British aristocracy when his parents lived in a house large enough to have its own name. Blue blood or not, he hardly suffered either.

His character did grow on me and if the film hadn’t dawdled so much I might’ve cared for his romance with Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the granddaughter of the well-to-do Lady Beldon. I did appreciate that she called Vin out on his bullshit when they first met since all he was was a “talker” and she at least did something with her time when she wasn’t busy being rich.

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British.

Carol Beldon’s grandmother, Lady Beldon, is played by Dame May Whitty and she owns all of her scenes. As classist as she can be, Lady Beldon is one of the few comedic elements in the movie, which was much appreciated given the rest of the subject matter even if she was a total bitch about most things. Her character arc revolves almost entirely around a flower competition which her family host, pays for, and that she always wins. It is all rather tripe.

The absolute best scene in the entire film takes place at its very end. Gathering in a bombed out church, there are gaps in the seating where lost loved ones once sat. The pastor’s sermon is rousing. The story goes that it was written over and over again up until the day it was shot. It was so important, that President Roosevelt cribbed it in his own speeches regarding the war effort. If the war hadn’t already been won, then I might’ve jumped out of my comfy living room and gone off to fight for freedom myself.

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Easily the most memorable scene, this speech, especially in context, was perfect.

Regardless of all these qualities, Diane and I both spent most of the film wondering when it would lead to anything. When we realized it was a World War II movie, we got interested despite the movie maintaining its glacial pacing. “Mrs. Miniver” feels long and is long. It takes too much time to get where it needs to be for the story to begin and everytime you think it is over, it isn’t. We very much appreciated the historic value of this film, but we will never watch it again.

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