Book Review: ‘Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War That Changed Pro Wrestling Forever’ by Tim Hornbaker

There have been countless books that have talked about wrestling territories and their collapse due to the emerging monster that was Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. However, none of the books I’ve ever read were as good and comprehensive as this one.

I think the main reason this is the best book I’ve read on the subject is because it’s not told from one perspective or about one promotion and its own woes against the WWF juggernaut. This book just lays out the facts, tells its tales and covers every territory under the sun.

This looks into every territory, from all angles and gives a ton of info and history while moving through the late ’70s and the entire ’80s. It’s comprehensive as hell and doesn’t seem to have any bias one way or the other. It helps set this apart from the wrestling book pack, as many are written with an axe to grind or with just one version of a story.

The subject matter here is fascinating, whether one is a wrestling fan or they just like to read about businesses and industries during times of major change.

Death of the Territories was superb, well researched, well presented and honestly, it makes me wish someone would make a documentary on all of this and do it the same justice.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other books on wrestling history. In fact, there are a lot of really good ones that have come out in recent years.

Video Game Review: Gyruss (NES)

Gyruss was a game that could’ve easily been tweaked a wee bit and made to fit within the larger Gradius universe. While those games are made by Konami and this is made by Ultra, you might not know that Ultra was just an imprint under the Konami umbrella and that the arcade version of this game had Konami all over it. The main reason for Ultra’s existence was due to some weird laws regarding licensing in North America.

Anyway, this has a Gradius feel to it, even though the gameplay style is much different.

You play as a spaceship and shoot your way through waves of enemies, progressing from stage to stage. It’s pretty simple and straightforward.

The big difference between this and the more popular side scrollers like the Gradius series is that you control the ship from a first-person point of view, as you movie the ship around the edge of the screen on a 360 degree circular rail.

While the perspective is initially cool and works well in the original arcade version of the game, it makes the controls in the NES port somewhat problematic due to the limitations of the D-pad. It’s mostly just clunky and doesn’t respond as well as you need it to.

Additionally, the game is initially fun but it gets really repetitive. Where the Gradius games are pretty much simple side scrolling shooters, they at least have really good level design and environmental changes that make the stages interesting. Gyruss, on the other hand, just has you starring at a black screen that you roll around while shooting in one small area of the screen.

This is a game that started with a cool idea but had poor, unimaginative execution, especially on the NES port. It just doesn’t work well and there are much better games within this genre.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other spacecraft action shooters for the NES.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Release Date: July 5th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Shane Black, Warren Murphy
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Kenneth Tigar

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 108 Minutes (cut), 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is my favorite Lethal Weapon movie and in fact, it’s pretty close to perfect on every level.

While most people probably see the first film as the best, I enjoy this one slightly more because it builds off of that foundation and makes it better. Also, this is the film that added in Joe Pesci, who had an amazing dynamic with Gibson and Glover and made this power duo a superpowered trio.

I also prefer the criminal plot in this movie and it takes more of a front seat, as the first film was primarily about dealing with Riggs’ personal problems and overcoming them.

That’s not to say that Riggs’ emotions don’t get the better of him in this film, they do, but the story and the context as to why are much more apparent and the tragedy that befalls his character actually happens in front of your eyes in this chapter. It makes more of an emotional impact on the viewer and because of what he’s already overcome, you understand his drive in the third act of the film and you root for him, and Murtaugh, in a way that you didn’t in the first picture.

Additionally, the villains are fucking superb. Joss Ackland is at his all-time best in this movie as the villainous, racist, South African diplomat, hiding behind legal red tape. I also like Derrick O’Connor as the top henchman. He isn’t quite on Busey’s level from the first movie but he is much better than the standard henchman from most action films of a similar style.

Overall, Lethal Weapon 2 takes the formula that was already established and perfects it. It adds to the series without taking anything away while having a swifter pace that doesn’t leave room for unnecessary filler. The characters are developed more in this chapter and all that is done organically as the story progresses. This is a finely written motion picture that understands the balance it needs between the action genre, comedy, drama and character building. It masters this in ways that other similar films have struggled.

There isn’t a bad thing I can say about the movie, really. It’s just awesome, top to bottom. It has everything I want in a Lethal Weapon movie and none of the stuff I don’t.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Comic Review: Stumptown, Vol. 3: The Case of the King of Clubs

Published: April 15th, 2015
Written by: Greg Rucka
Art by: Justin Greenwood, Ryan Hill

Oni Press, 133 Pages

Review:

I kind of dug the first two volumes of Stumptown and I’ve also been enjoying the television series, which debuted last fall. However, this third volume in the comics series felt like a real step down.

First off, I don’t like the art. The artist changed and the previous volumes felt more refined and less cartoonish. They still had a good, indie feel to them but this feels more like a typical Oni Press book where the other ones looked more polished and like crime comics put out by a bigger indie publisher like Image.

Also, I thought the story was weak as hell, pretty predictable and felt more like an advertisement for the Portland Timbers soccer team, as well as Portland soccer culture, than it did a gritty, edgy crime story. It felt less neo-noir and more ABC Afterschool Special.

This volume was a bore to get through, didn’t live up to the expectations I had based off of the two stories before this one and it just felt like everything was dialed in.

The story lacked layers, proper plot twists and was completely bogged down by slice of life shenanigans and repetitive conversations between paper thin characters.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Stumptown volumes, as well as Gotham CentralKill Or Be Killed, The Fade Out and Sin City.

Film Review: Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

Also known as: Thir13en Ghosts (stylized title), 13 Ghosts (alternative spelling), 13 Fantasmas (Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Venezuela)
Release Date: October 23rd, 2001 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Steve Beck
Written by: Neal Marshall Stevens, Richard D’Ovidio, Robb White
Based on: 13 Ghosts by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham, Ken Kirzinger

Dark Castle Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Glass Family Robinson, you’re wasting your breath!” – Dennis Rafkin

I know I’ve seen this movie or at least most of it. I’m not sure if I ever saw it in its entirety but I also don’t know if that even matters, as it’s kind of a disjointed mess that relies more on cool visuals than its plot and characters.

Ultimately, this movie is a massively wasted opportunity. It establishes a really cool mythos with its ghosts, each having a unique story and visual look. However, it kind of just gives you a quick rundown of the ghosts and expects you to retain that without giving you much more. Plus, half of the info dump is easy to miss, as it is told at a rapid pace with disorienting quick edits that overload your brain preventing you from sponging up the information.

Now the film looks great from the ghosts, the really cool, opulent ghost house and because Shannon Elizabeth is in it. However, all the window dressing is mostly destroyed by the constant strobe light effects, atrocious editing and even more atrocious pacing. This thing is made to look like an industrial music video from the late ’90s but music videos are only four minutes, not ninety minutes. Essentially, this entire film assaults and overloads the senses from start to finish and if you can get through it without multiple seizures, you deserve a trophy.

Coming off of the 1999 House On Haunted Hill remake, I thought that this could be equally good or surpass it. This is made by the same studio and it is also a remake of another William Castle movie just like Haunted Hill was. I think the mistake may have come from this not utilizing the same creative team.

While this movie mimics the visual style and effects of the previous movie, it takes it so far over the top that it wrecks the whole picture.

It also doesn’t help that other than Shannon Elizabeth, there isn’t a likable character in the entire film. And if I’m being honest, once you get midway through the movie, Shannon Elizabeth is barely in this thing, as she’s held captive off screen.

Instead, we’re treated to Rah Digga from Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and Matthew Lillard yelling at each other with Tony Shalhoub a.k.a. Monk jumping in every few scenes. Then we have F. Murray Abraham and his weird domestic terrorist lover arguing over nonsense while dumping more info so fast that it’s like watching two people in a fill-the-bowl diarrhea contest.

This entire movie is a good primer on how not to make a horror movie. Also, this may have been where the horror genre really went off the rails, as the ’00s became a cesspool of shit for horror fans that weren’t thirteen year-old girls obsessed with putting sparkle graphics all over their MySpace profiles.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Documentary Review: Adrian Street: Imagine What I Could Do to You (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019
Cast: Adrian Street, William Regal, Johnny Saint, Road Dogg

WWE Network, 21 Minutes

Review:

Adrian Street was a wrestler that was around during my most impressionable time and in an era where I grew to love that industry. However, I didn’t learn about the guy until later on, as he wasn’t featured on the few shows I had access to.

Still, the guy is a fucking legend and he may not have been the first wrestler to be kind of a dandy but he was the first to really push the bar sexually and thus, opened the doors for the others who weren’t afraid to add a certain level of flamboyant mystery and potential gayness to their character.

This short documentary was really fun to watch albeit way, way too short. I would’ve liked to have seen a whole retrospective on his career, as opposed to this Cliff Notes version that mostly just focused on the gimmick instead of the actual career and achievements the man had.

While he might not have been a WWE star, he made a massive impact that influenced a generation of wrestlers that would go on to influence another generation.

Without Adrian Street, there is no Goldust, no Adrian Adonis, no Billy & Chuck, no Kwee-Wee, etc. Street changed the wrestling landscape forever and made some things a lot less taboo, culturally, in an industry that was ruled by old men pushing tradition and alpha manliness.

I don’t feel like this documentary really makes that point as well as it could, had it been longer than twenty minutes.

Still, this is a good short documentary to check out because, if anything, it will just make you want to know more about the character and the man behind it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other WWE Network documentaries.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (US recut version)
Release Date: July 24th, 1971 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshimitsu Banno
Written by: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Riichiro Manabe
Cast: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Keiko Mari, Toshio Shiba

Toho Co. Ltd., 85 Minutes

Review:

“There’s no place else to go and pretty soon we’ll all be dead, so forget it! Enjoy yourself! Let’s sing and dance while we can! Come on, blow your mind!” – Yukio Keuchi

This is probably the weirdest Godzilla movie of the original Shōwa era. There are a few reasons as to why and I’ll get to that.

But first, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite films in the franchise. It’s also pretty divisive, as people either seem to love it or hate it. My reasons for liking it is its weirdness and because its visually striking, does things outside of the box, creatively speaking, and it is very musical.

The film also carries an environmental message, which is important. Especially, to the Japanese people of the time, as there was a lot of industrial pollution that was creating problems and having an adverse effect on the natural beauty of the country.

What makes this movie so unique is the fact that it had a very different creative team than the other films. This was a Shōwa era film that wasn’t directed by either Ishirō Honda or Jun Fukuda. In fact, out of the fifteen Shōwa films, only one other was directed by someone else: 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, which was helmed by Motoyoshi Oda. The reason why this is significant is due to that rarity, as well as Honda and Fukuda both having a consistent style.

This film’s director Yoshimitsu Banno made some creative changes that set this film apart. However, I wouldn’t say that this movie becomes inconsistent, it just has some neat artistic flourishes, such as hand drawn animated scene transitions, switching from black and white to color in an effort to emphasize liveliness and music, as well as a heavy use of music itself while showcasing the Japanese club scene of the early ’70s. In its own way, this is probably the most hip Godzilla picture of the Shōwa period.

The film is also visually darker, as both major battles between Godzilla and Hedorah, the Smog Monster, happen at night amidst a pretty smoggy atmosphere. But I like the tone and it still doesn’t deter from the upbeat and lightheartedness of the youthful, hippie-like characters and the pop music.

I also really love the monster in this and he’s gone on to become one of my favorite kaiju baddies of all-time. Additionally, I like that the monster has different stages of evolution throughout the film, which I feel somewhat inspired the new Godzilla in the Shin Godzilla reboot from a few years ago.

This movie also has a cheeky sense of humor to it and it could really be looked at as the stoner’s Godzilla movie between the music, the club scene, the outdoor party and Hedorah vegging out on top of a factory, inhaling the smoke stacks like a hookah. I guess the cool animated scenes would add to this as well.

Banno was slated to direct a sequel to this film but the heads of Toho hated the final product and ended up only working with Honda and Fukuda for the remainder of the Shōwa series.

After this film, we were going to get a picture called Godzilla vs. Redmoon. That was scrapped and eventually became the film Daigoro vs. Goliath. Then the studio switched gears and planned Godzilla vs. The Space Monsters: Earth Defensive Directive, which would have been similar to the style of the Ultraman television series. That was also canned and retooled to The Return of King Ghidorah, which was also cancelled and then further retooled into the actual followup, Godzilla vs. Gigan. Luckily for Ghidorah fans, he returned in that film anyway.

As for Hedorah, the monster wouldn’t be seen on the big screen for another 33 years, as one of dozens of monsters in the over the top Godzilla: Final Wars. Despite his lack of big screen love, he’s grown to become a cultural icon and has appeared in tons of video games, comics and television, primarily featured multiple times in Godzilla Island from 1977-1998.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Gigan.