Monday, March 30, 2015

B-Movie Review: “Platoon Leader” (1988)

It’s a no-budget, politics-free ‘Namsploitation action flick starring “American Ninja.” What more do you need to know?

Somehow, someway, I find myself referencing Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” for the second time in about a month. I didn’t really plan that, to be frank -- in fact, I don’t think I’ve actually seen the movie in about 15 years.

Alas, as was the case when discussing the NES adaptation, we must once again refer back to Ollie Stone’s 1986 war drama as a necessary launching point for our analysis of “Platoon Leader.”

Now, there are shameless attempts to capitalize on the success of an existing property, but at least MOST firms try to come up with some kind of title that steers away from the obvious inspiration source. Needless to say, calling a movie “Platoon Leader” just two years removed from a movie just called “Platoon” is a bit on the brassy side, even if the film itself is actually based on a non-fiction book that actually predates Oliver Stone’s movie.

Of course, there are quite a few differences between “Platoon,” the 1986 Best Picture winner, and “Platoon Leader,” the 1988 straight-to-VHS cornball action flick that, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t win any awards of any variety.

The flick was released by the Cannon Group -- a low-budget, anti-Hollywood film distributor best known for right-wing action flicks like the myriad “Death Wish” sequels and virtually every Chuck Norris film ever made. “Platoon Leader,” as very much a conservative rejoinder to “Platoon,” is definitely indicative of the company’s general political oeuvre, albeit a much better little neo-con exploitation film than their typical offerings.

The film starts off with our main character, Lieutenant Jeff Knight, arriving at a makeshift base in Binh Dinh. He’s played by Michael Dudikoff, who any early 1990s video store patron would immediately identify as the protagonist of the long-running “American Ninja” franchise. There, he runs into his sergeant, who has the sleekest caterpillar lip ’stache this side of Freddie Mercury. From there, we’re introduced to the rest of the crew: an Italian dude who may actually be black and a redheaded dude who smoke weed, a dorky radio operator (NO IDEA where the idea for that one came from!) and a black dude who is always shaving. This being a war movie and all, at first, nobody respects Knight, even though he graduated from West Point. They go on their first overnight ambush as a company, and during daybreak, the entire Viet Cong army runs atop them while they lay low in the weeds. This leads to a second raid, where they wind up chasing these two villagers through the jungle and torching the grasslands in slow motion. A tree top sniper gets capped and Knight almost gets done in by a snake booby trap (don’t worry, it gets grenaded real good) and then, he winds up getting royally messed up by a tripwire explosion. So, he ends up in the infirmary, where his old West Point major shows up and gives him some words of encouragement.

So, he heads back to ’Nam and the Bravo team is kinda’ miffed because they don’t think he’s really an effective leader. After they find out their 18-man operation is about to get raided by 200 Charlie,  the crew starts loading up their base with barbed wire, sharp sticks and explosives -- it’s a hell of a montage sequence, really.  Out in the jungle, they find a dead villager and they exact revenge on the V.C. by tossing 50 grenades at them while they shower under a waterfall. This leads to an all-out firefight in the wilderness, with the dorky radio operator getting killed. Knight tells his superiors more men are needed to guard the compound, but he ends up only getting three more, including this greaser kid who just does not give one inkling of one iota of a shit. In probably the best scene of the entire movie, the sergeant makes the whippersnapper hold down a live mine while he takes forever to pee, telling him that “death is the ultimate alarm clock.”

After Knight admonishes the Italian guy for smoking weed, he proceeds to head out into the jungle and mainline a lethal dose of heroin. To give him a fonder send-off back home, the crew decides to shoot the shit out of his corpse and tell the higher-ups “the enemy got him.”

This is a natural segue to our balls-out compound raid semi-finale, which considering the estimated $8.37 budget, is actually pretty nice. All you need to know here? We’ve got bazookas, we’ve got rockets, we’ve got machine gun fire and we’ve got midnight air strikes a plenty. Afterwards, Knight and Sarge have a discussion about the military being in the “idea manufacturing” industry. “If they don’t buy into our ideas,” the second-in-command says, “we put a bullet inside ‘em.”

From there, the team embarks upon their final mission, a jungle raid in which the sergeant gets capped and the titular platoon leader has to wait in a rice paddy forever until helicopter rescuers arrive. After that, we get a decent village raid closer, with multiple exploding huts and bridges, but don’t worry, it ends on a positive note: Knight saves a baby from the flaming rubble! I mean, his mom and dad and entire family are probably all dead, but still!

And the movie ends with Knight visiting his right-hand-man in the hospital, telling him they lost the village, but hey, at least they are still alive and get to continue being all homoerotic together and whatnot.

As I was saying earlier, the film is actually based on a real book, which was penned by James R. McDonough, who strangely enough, went on to become Florida’s drug czar. The screenplay itself was penned by three separate writers, including David L. Walker, who is probably best known for his work on the old Nickelodeon sitcom “Hey Dude.”

The guy playing the sergeant was Robert F. Lyons. He’s had a ton of film roles over the last four or so decades, but the one he’s probably most recognizable from is his immortal portrayal of Skeeter in “Dark Night of the Scarecrow.” Probably the most prolific actor in the entire movie, of course, is the guy playing Knight’s old West Point instructor -- that’s William Smith, whose filmography includes roles on “The A-Team,” “Walker, Texas Ranger” and the first Conan flick, where he played Ah-nold’s papa.

Speaking of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” this film was directed by Chuck’s sibling, Aaron Norris, who is also responsible for vehicles like “Missing in Action 3,” “Sidekicks” and “Top Dog,” which was pretty much “Turner and Hooch,” only this time, the dog was a better actor than the main lead.

I admit, this is some serious guilty pleasure material. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I appreciate its refreshing lack of political subtext. Nobody in the movie ever goes off into existential monologues about the nature of man, and really, you’re never more than five minutes removed from something having a grenade lobbed at it at any point in the picture. It’s not quite as egregious as something like “The Green Berets,” and unlike the Braddock films, there’s actually SOME semblance of plot and character development. It’s still a B-movie, through and through, but it’s a smarter kind of B-movie, that actually puts a little effort into it.

Yeah, yeah, “Full Metal Jacket” this thing may not be, but by that same token, there are far, far worse movies out there about ‘Nam. It’s just  a big, dumb, loud, no-budget action experience -- when you’re feeling a war movie that’s more “Contra: Hard CORPS” than “Apocalypse Now,” it’s waiting for you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ten Things That are Probably Worse than Being Raped

A brief rundown of a few horrific crimes that, arguably, could be considered more heinous than sexual assault. 

Rape is unquestionably a disgusting, deplorable and unforgivable transgression. Without a doubt, those who commit the crime are wretched, miserable, contemptible excuses for human beings, and they deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law. If someone were to commit such a grotesque, inhuman act against someone I loved, I would enjoy nothing more than to pummel them to a pulp, and when violent sex criminals like Jeffrey Dahmer get clubbed to death in prison, I can't help but laugh a hearty, ironic chuckle. 

That said, I've always kind of felt a little iffy whenever people talk about sexual assault as being the paramount evil above all others. It's unmistakably terrible, but is it the absolute worst thing human beings can do to one another?

In 2010, the CDC claimed that one out of 12 women in the country experience rape at some point in their lives. Whether that's an undercount or an overcount, you're guess is as good as mine -- unlike statistics dealing with, say, homicide, there is a tremendous amount of ambiguity to consider.

To be frank, the discussion of rape in contemporary American culture has turned into a three-ring circus of absurd hyperbole, suspicious statistics and shameless identity-politicking. The actual facts about sexual assault in the U.S. have been tucked away in the attic, eschewed for a much more exciting discussion about an alleged patriarchal "rape culture" -- a one-sided pseudo "debate," of course, which always seems to leave out the thornier topics of false allegations, prison assaults, man-on-boy crimes and some very peculiar data on interracial rape

But the thing that really gets me about the whole rape discussion is the aura around the crime, that, for some reason, it's an absolutely unconscionable act that's more detestable than even the act of murder. The soft-hearted sentimentalist I am, I decided to take a day off to mull a couple of crimes and crime consequences that I would consider much more painful, sorrowful and contemptible than rape.

Put on a happy face folks ... it's time to get all sorts of morbid in this mother.


Having one’s pelvic orifices involuntarily invaded, no doubt, is a terrible thing to consider. That said, as disgusting and contemptible as it may be, the act itself eventually ends. Yeah, you can talk about the psychological trauma from the event lasting a lifetime, but as far as the bodily impact goes, unless you have something ruptured, get knocked up or acquire an STD, there’s not much of an aftermath. Being blinded, though, is something that is, in every sense of the term, irreversible. You’ll never again be able to see the faces of your loved ones, or even be cognizant of your own damn surroundings. It strips away your ability to even absorb the world around you for the remainder of your days, a fate that I would consider much worse than being sodomized for five to 10 minutes.


Rape is considered a terrible crime because it depowers the victim. It involves the individual’s foremost property -- their own bodies -- being coerced and used as nothing more than meat for someone else’s vicious pleasure. The exact same logical framework can be applied to those who are paralyzed by others, only it’s infinitely more depraved since it literally leaves the victim dead from the shoulders or pelvis down. Even after a horrendous sexual assault experience, one can presumably continue functioning like the average human being, doing basic things like walking and breathing. Alas, fortune isn’t so kind to paraplegics and quadriplegics, who are left as defenseless as an infant, unable to care for even their simplest bodily functions.


A rape victim, for the most part, doesn’t have any physical reminders of the actual crime a year afterwards. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in a violent attack or as the result of a violent attack, however, has no other option but to be reminded of said crime just by simply existing. Many, many rape victims will no doubt spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on counseling following their attacks, but their rehabilitative costs are relatively minute compared to the exorbitant physical therapy fees paid by amputees. The loss of self the victims of sexual attack experience is no doubt disheartening, but I find it unquestionable that both the psychological and crudely literal “loss of self” amputees experience is much, much more pronounced.


It’s a rarity in the United States, but commonplace throughout the Middle East and predominantly Muslim parts of Asia and Africa. Instead of being raped, indelibly unfortunate women are instead assailed by attackers carrying corrosive chemicals, who aspire to cosmetically disfigure them. It’s oftentimes a double whammy, since in addition to having their faces melted off by acid, the same victims are almost always permanently blinded in said attacks. Sexual assault is certainly a painful crime, but it it as excruciating as the sensation of feeling one’s skin liquefy down to the bone? That, I am highly skeptical about.


Even if you have an arm or leg amputated, you can reasonably obtain a realistic looking prosthetic -- pending you have the health insurance coverage, of course. Hell, if you wear long sleeves or blue jeans, some people wouldn’t even know you lost a limb. That said, if you have a part of your face ripped off, odds are, that’s something you’re probably not going to be able to hide from the masses. It’s more or less the same argument as being chemically disfigured, albeit with a tighter focus on sensory loss -- imagine what it must feel like to have your lips pared from your mouth, or your ears severed, or your nose sliced off (yet again, common crimes in parts of the world where hardcore Islamists tend to make their beds.) On a superficial level, the public at large never knows whether someone has experienced sexual assault simply by looking at them, which is something you definitely can't say about those with knife wound scars and eye patches.


A long time ago, I had a chat with an ER physician. I asked him what the worst thing he ever saw was, and he didn’t even hesitate with his response. He told me about a kid who had been incinerated in an automobile crash, leaving third degree burns on well over 90 percent of his body. Even after being administered a huge dose of morphine, he said the unfortunate lad continued to scream like the life was being squeezed out of him. The kid spent the next five years undergoing reparative surgeries, with even light wind gusts causing such extraordinary pain that he would break out into blood-curdling screaming sessions, sometimes for hours on end. If that wasn’t enough, he lost nearly all of vision and tactile sensations, leaving him in a state of partial paralysis for the rest of his life.


I do not deny that rape victims experience extreme personality changes after their attacks. That said, the aftermath of their experiences usually don’t deprive them of their entire identity the same way those who experience severe brain damage do. As horrific as rape may be, the idea of having your whole memory knocked out of you -- additionally leaving you in a permanent infantile state for the remainder of your life -- seems all the more tragic and terrifying.


It's probably an odd duck selection for most people, but I imagine the physical toll  slow, intentional starvation takes on the human mind and body is likely a lot more severe than that of a sexual assault. Try reading about the plight of the Irish during the Great Famine, or the tales of transatlantic slaves or especially the ghoulish, systematic slaughter by starvation in Ukraine  sometime; personally, I'd prefer a savage sodomizing to slowly succumbing to malnutrition any day of the week.


There was a dude at a warehouse outside of Atlanta who got capped in a mass shooting about a year ago. Since then, he's experienced a good two dozen plus surgeries, which I can only imagine results in absurd, unyielding pain 24 hours a day. If the actual injury-related pain wouldn't be enough for you, there's also the loss of mobility and motor function, not to mention the simple ability to take care of one's self. Then, there's the financial toll, a big, fat, spiteful slap in the face after already facing near-death. And on top of that, the never-ending thoughts about being a burden on your loved ones. It's a never-ending, all-encompassing hell, the kind of life that has to be exponentially worse than those lived by victims of even the most heinous sexual attacks.


And lastly, we come to the big one, the ultimate crime against humanity. I'm sorry folks, but there's simply no way I could ever consider even the most horrific act of rape to be worse than actually killing another human being. At least after a sexual assault, there's the reality of tomorrow, that the pain will stop and some semblance of normal life can be attained. Alas, if you are murdered, well ... that's it. No more future, no more thoughts, no more potential. You go from being a person to a thing, a carcass, a bag of organs and bones with no identity and no personality. Existence comes to a screeching standstill, reality as you perceived it simply vanishes. Murder deprives you not only of your own consciousness, but your impact on the world around you. But that's not the hard part. The hard part, you see, is the fact that long after your expiration, the agony of your killing will absolutely torment your loved ones. It will drive your wife to madness, your kids into absolute crippling sorrow and destroy your parents marriage, simply because you're no longer around. I've spoken to rape victims, and I've spoken to the families of murder victims, and it's a no-contest; the pain on the faces of the murder victim families was much deeper. They remain frozen inside a perpetual crime, a moment that never, ever leaves their consciousness. Rape victims have a tomorrow, but the murdered do not. What in the name of God could ever be worse than that?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PROPAGANDA REVIEW: "They Were White and They Were Slaves"

The message is hard to deny. Unfortunately, the messenger isn't exactly the kind of person you would want to side with in an argument. 

"To admit the true history of white slavery and record it faithfully in modern history is to furnish empirical evidence that white skin does not necessarily embody power and status; that the 'poor white redneck' of today who is asked to subsidize with his taxes and make sacrifices in his living wage and job prospects so that blacks may be 'compensated for slavery' in reality owes nobody for anything."

-- Michael A. Hoffman II
   "They Were White and they Were Slaves" (1993)

"The planters treated the black better than they did their Christian white servant. Even the negroes recognized this and did not hesitate to show their contempt for those white men who, they could see, were worse off than themselves."

-- Carl and Roberta Bridenbagh
"No Peace Beyond the Line: The English in the Caribbean, 1624-1690" (1972)

There was an old Tenacious D skit where Jack Black was performing the band's usual, profanity-laced, sexually-explicit brand of comedy jock rock. Afterwards, a random skeezer walked up to JB and Kyle and asked them, oh-so-delicately, if they wanted to tag-team her. Much to KG's dismay, JB proceeded to give the amorous young woman a lengthy spiel, urging her to not confuse the artist's message with the artist himself.

With "They Were White and They Were Slaves," I think we would all be wise to preface the tome with Mr. Black's little aphorism about art and artist. The book is certainly a worthwhile read, and up until fairly recently, it was far and away the most comprehensive writing out there on the subject of Caucasian slavery.

There's just one little tiny, teensy fly in the ointment, though. You see, Michael A. Hoffman II, author of the treatise, is one of them conspiracy theorist folks who believes an evil shadow government is controlling all of the world's affairs. Obviously, that makes his credibility suspect, but the really, REALLY big strike against Hoffman (not to be confused with another guy who is named Michael Hoffman, who shows up as a half-naked dude when you enter said search term into Google) is that he kinda, sorta doesn't believe the Holocaust happened. I mean, he thinks a lot of Jewish people were butchered and maimed by Hitler's armies and all, but he casts serious doubts on the whole '"Final Solution" deal. Unsurprisingly, not a lot of people take his work seriously as a result.

Now, I am not here to exonerate or eviscerate the fella. Even if he's damned wrong on his thoughts on World War II, we live in a democratic state where you are free to believe any stupid bullshit you want to believe. Unless you live in a democratic state like Canada or Merkel's Germany, though ... there, if you say the shit Hoffman believes, they actually will put you in jail for it.

Rather, I am here to SUBJECTIVELY review his magnum opus, which at a paltry 100 or so pages, is really more of an extended pamphlet, now that I think about it.

The core thesis of "They Were White" is a fairly straightforward one -- that the ancestors of many Caucasian Americans actually arrived to the New World no different than the African slaves did: in bondage, against their will and immediately thrust into agrarian labor hell.

As a neat-and-tidy summary of Caucasoid subjugation, this Hoffman fellow does a rather bang-up job of outlining a good 4,000 plus years of chalkie servitude. He begins by taking us back to the heyday of Greek and Roman slavery, when Julius Caesar himself reeled in about 1 million captives from Gaul. A bit later on, he describes how the Franks enslaved the Visigoths and how the Russian Muscovites wound up as chattel for not only the Scandinavians, but the Mongols and the Ottoman Empire.

He then explains how France became a vital transfer point for white slavery, with most of the shipments bound for the Arabic world. As it turns out, Norsemen had a pretty sweet deal going on with the Moors, as Vikings spent hundreds of years nabbing the Irish and selling them to Muslims in Spain.

From there, he jumps a couple of hundred years to England circa 1600. The author discusses an intentional "holocaust of white yeomanry" throughout the serfdom years, explaining how articles like the oh-so ironically named Black Act and even the Magna Carta's writ of disseisin pushed the working classes into states of virtual slavery.

Then, he takes us to the industrialization years, bringing up how England's "poor relief" programs constituted a mini class-cleansing effort. Long, long before subjugated Jews were forced by the Nazis to wear the Star of David on their clothing, Hoffman tells us that the British powers-that-were literally forced the impoverished in London to sport scarlet P's. The anti-poor ideology of plutocrats like Joey Townsend and Thomas Malthus ultimately led to the creation of "poor workhouses," where the starving masses were lifted off the streets and literally worked to death so as to not gum up the walkways begging for change.

Quoting Charles Shaw, the author of "When I Was a Child," Hoffman describes the joys and wonders of factory life, where 5-year-old children were tied to machines 16 hours a day and pummeled with iron rods for not working fast enough.

"These little white slaves were flogged at times as brutally, all things considered, as Legree flocked Uncle Tom," Shaw stated.

According to William Dodd, in 1846 alone more than 10,000 English workers were mutilated, mangled and maimed by machinery, with scrofula outbreaks due to unsanitary working conditions more often than not resulting in amputations. Hoffman allows an anti-child-labor proponent from the timeframe to describe the horrors of the Industrial Revolution: " A girl [was] caught by the hair and scalped from the nose to the back of the head. The manufacturer gave her five schillings. She died in the workhouse."

So horrific these conditions, the Reverend Charles Edward said, that he would rather his children be held in Southern slavery than be a poor bondsman in England.

Which brings us to white slavery in these United States. According to historical records as many as a a HALF TO TWO-THIRDS of white settlers to the New World up until the American Revolution were slaves. In fact, the Mayflower arrived stateside with a dozen indentured Caucasians aboard.

In 1670, the author states that 10,000 Brits were kidnapped for use as cheap labor in the Americas. Kind of around the same timeframe, Oliver Cromwell shipped more than 100,000 Irishmen to the West Indies -- including pregnant women and children arrested for the horrendous crime of stealing apples off trees. You see, a 1618 bill allowed children as young as 8-years-old to be sold into 14 to 16 years of slavery for offenses as nefarious as breaking up water ponds and accidentally stepping on the property of the landed gentry.

Although the white slaves were promised their own land once their indentured stints concluded, the historical data shows that to be, by and large, a big, fat lie. Of about 5,000 servants in Maryland from 1670 to 1680, barely one-fifth actually went on to acquire their own properties -- the other four-fifths all died in bondage. For misdeeds like "idleness" and missing church services, these mayonnaise-colored slaves received punishments such as being branded with the letter "R" and having their ears sliced off.

As far as the hard data, it is REALLY hard to argue against Hoffman's assertions. Where things get iffy, of course, is when he decides to politicize the issue, and incessantly make the same two arguments over and over again:

1.) That, traditionally, enlightened liberals have never given a shit about the poor white man, even though they all cry rivers of tears for the plight of darker-skinned slaves, and

2.) That all things considered, black slavery really wasn't any worse than white servitude.

Not that there isn't some merit to his arguments. Since African slaves fetched much higher prices, the author reasons that slaveholders in the Americas treated them much better as economic investments than they did their honky servants, whom were deemed more or less disposable. He even cites numerous historical examples, demonstrating that on the socioeconomic pecking order, the downtrodden freed whites where often held in less esteem than even the enslaved blacks by the upper classes. He even finds historical proofs of some Africans held in bondage, who considered themselves in more fortunate places than the lowly, impoverished whites. "I'd rather be a nigger," and old field song went, "than a poor white man."

Alas, Mr. Hoffman spends so much of the damn book harping on the above-mentioned topics that it becomes irritating. Of the scant 100 or so pages in the book, I'd surmise that at least a fifth of it is Hoffy talking about how libs lament black slavery but ignore white enslavement, and periodically, some downright prejudicial comments sneak in there, such as as his digs at Harriet Beecher Stowe and his description of Charles Sumner as a "negrophile."

As simply a starting point for research on the history of white class oppression, it's a pretty good primer, although the questionable editorializing -- which I would feel comfortable describing, at least partially, as race-baiting -- makes the thing feel a lot less credible than it would have otherwise.

Thankfully, authors Don Jordan and Michael Walsh came along in 2008 to co-write "White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America," which is a much more-thorough, in-depth and academic examination of the same territory that Hoffman covers in "They Were White." And as an added bonus, it's also a lot less Stormfront-y, too.

The positive, I guess, is that Hoffman's book is readily available on the Intraweb, so if you'd like to get a quick and dirty lead on the history of Caucasian servitude, it's not hard to find.

Just don't consider it the authoritative work on the subject ... nor the author really that much of an authority on anything.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Chipotle Sofritas!

At long last, America's other go-to taco shack finally has a faux-meat veggie alternative ... but are the much ballyhooed burritos really worth a hoot?

Back in the day, the Federal Communications Commission had this thing called the “Fairness Doctrine.” Basically, it was a policy that forced radio stations to give equal air time to both liberal and conservative viewpoints. As evident by the staggeringly disproportion number of gas bags on talk radio who think all black people want to shoot cops and burn down gas stations and that the Homosexual Agenda is somehow leading to an Islamofacist takeover of Western Civilization, the FCC really isn’t much of a stickler on that rule all that much nowadays.

Although the suits in D.C. may not be making any efforts to bring objectivity to the masses, rest assured that we here at The Internet is in America want to do all we can to bring you a truly impartial, well-balanced anti-consumerist and anti-pop culture humor and entertainment site. As such, you’ve probably noticed that a good 43 percent of the blog consists of articles either explicitly or obliquely referencing Taco Bell. Well, as a matter of broadcast journalistic integrity, I have decided to finally put the spotlight on America’s other star-spangled taqueria. No, not that one, the one people actually go to.

Chiptole really is the photo negative of Taco Bell. Whereas the Bell is all about bringing you high-speed, semi-authentic Tex-Mex at the lowest consumer cost possible, Chipotle is anchored around the exact opposite marketing approach: there’s no drive-thru, the eating spaces are cramped, and odds are, you’re going to have to wait in line for quite awhile before you get your nom on. Without question, the two brands are competing for different sets of clientele; with their more expensive, sort-of-like-Moe’s-only-with-fewer-ingredients assembly line model, Chipotle seems to target the more affluent fast food diners, while Taco Bell’s dedication to gloriously unhealthy high-concept foodstuffs unequivocally proves the subsidiary is dedicated, first and foremost, to serving really poor people or people of normal income who smoke a lot of drugs.

Even the dining area aesthetics are completely antithetical; one is warm with lots of pastel colors and corporate art, and the other is basically a post-modern factory, complete with gun metal tables and lighting that seems lifted out of a Austrian meat locker. And if that wasn’t enough of a yin-yang situation for you, the musical selections at each restaurant seem to be at odds, too; at the Bell, you’re bombarded by either bubble gum pop singles or plasma screen in-house infomercials, while at Chipotle, you’re assailed by this genre-less, gunky drumbeat accompanied by low-pitched electronic wails.

Clearly, a comparison of the two restaurants is like listing the similarities between night and day, or fire and ice, or Libertarian ideals and reasonable foreign policy. Alas, the absolute biggest discrepancy between the two brands is the menu. Whereas Taco Bell is all about providing you with as many stand-alone products as possible, Chipotle’s menu has remained relatively static since its inception. Ultimately, the reason why I haven’t really covered the restaurant in-depth in the past is because, frankly, the franchise doesn’t really release anything new to talk about -- and my nearest location appears to be one of the few in the country that’s never heard of the fabled “quesarito,” either.

The arrival of the Sofrita, thusly, is pretty important on two fronts. First, it’s a new item being offered by the chain, which is the type of thing that happens with the seeming regularity of Harper Lee novels being published. Secondly, it’s a tofu item offered by a national fast food chain, which is about as rare as catching a glimpse of D.B. Cooper holding hands with Bigfoot.

For those unfamiliar with the Chipotle model, it's pretty simple to explain. Instead of walking up to the counter and asking for a Chili Cheese Fries Loaded Griller, you pick a type of Tex-Mex dish and some marble-mouthed teenager who smells like peppermint gum and weed screams at you what about what kind of beans you want before handing off your item to another marble-mouthed teenager who smells like peppermint gum and weed who screams at you about what kind of meat you want. This happens about five or six times over the course of ten seconds, with other marble-mouthed teenagers asking you about lettuce, toppings, sauce and salsa before a junior college general education major rings up your order. Simply put, you never really know what you're going to end up with at the restaurant -- sometimes, you wind up with more toppings than you ordered and sometimes, less. One time, I ordered two tacos and wound up with a rice bowl.

The Sofrita, as such, isn't a fixed menu item. Instead, it's a type of protein topping you can add to your burrito, taco or salad as a substitute for shredded beef or chicken. Since I was being rushed through the line like the building was on fire, I didn't even have time to snap a picture of the sofrita-faux-meat in the little plastic container next to the black olives and guacamole. That said, I did see the stuff pass by in a blur -- it was chunky and red, more closely resembling ground chorizo than shredded beef.

If you are curious about the nomenclature, the term "sofrito" seems to roughly translate into "stir-fry" in English. However, the Wikipedia says that "sofrito" is actually the name of a traditional, spicy stew that's popular in the Mediterranean, which, technicallly, the Chipotle Sofrita is not.

I guess the best way to describe the core concept of the product is "spicy tofu," since the stuff is seasoned with poblanos and actual chipotle peppers -- you can even see some of the flakes in the protein paste, if you look for them hard enough.

In my sofrita test-taste, I decided to opt for the burrito incarnation of the dish. I tried to keep the additional toppings to a minimum so as to best gauge the gustatory quality of the new product, so I went with the blandest ingredients I could -- standard white rice, black beans, shredded white cheese and no veggies to speak of whatsoever. I even skipped the salsa for this showdown, and as we all know, the salsa is pretty much the best part of any Southwestern food experience.

On my introductory go-around with the Sofrita, I was conflicted. The big positive with the new item is that it is indeed spicy -- WAY spicier than anything you'll find at Taco Bell, for sure. Of course, this also leads to a singed butt hole a day later, but hey, that's just part of the total sensory experience.

In terms of taste and texture though, I was a bit disappointed. While the faux-meat does have a nice kick to it, it really doesn't have much of a flavor of its own. I know, that's a complaint you can lob at tofu products in general, but I've downed some fairly yummy soy dogs in my day, and I KNOW Chipotle can do a better job than this of flavoring their newfangled product.

Really, the big problem with the dish is its inconsistency. Like greasy snowflakes, no two pieces of Sofrita  are the same in terms of texture. You may get one speckle that's almost shaped like a hunk of ground beef, and the next bite is like a chewy piece of sausage. You never really get a good sense of mouthfeel rhythm going on, and it makes the entire process disjointed and a teensy bit frustrating. It's not a gross-tasting product by any stretch, but at the same time? Man, does this thing lack anything even remotely resembling an idiosyncratic fast food personality.

Of course, that's not to totally pee all over the product. I mean, it's good for what it is and if you're a hardcore vegan, I'm sure you'll like it. That said, this stuff really isn't giving me any kind of excuse to go out of my way to try it, especially at such a steep price point. Sorry, hipster scum, but for the price of just ONE of these damn taco salads, I can pick up a half dozen Cheesy Bean and Rice Burritos at the Bell. With that sort of disproportionality in volume, the whole quantity vs. quality debate doesn't even matter anymore.

If you have a lot of money in your pockets to burn or you are some kind of eco-terrorist earth-firster who just HAS to eat whole-organic bean paste or shrivel up into a ball and die, I reckon the Sofritas will do you just fine. However, even as a "premium" fast food item, I still think it's lacking in the flavor department, and quite frankly, you could probably whip up something else faux-meaty at home that's even tastier, and probably quite a bit cheaper, too.

It's OK, but just OK, I am afraid. It's probably worth one chow just for the experience, but truthfully, I think we're all a bit better off just hanging out at the taco-place of the Proletariat -- as is the case with most scenarios in life, I have long attested.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Problem with K-Cups...

Why old-school coffee makers STILL outperform the likes of Keurig...

The first time I saw a Keurig coffee maker, I thought it was among the stupidest products I had ever seen.

"You mean you want me to spend $199 USD on some kind of contraption that uses Papa John garlic sauce packets instead of a filter like we've been doing since the 1950s?" I thought aloud. When I realized the thing didn't even have a coffee pot component, I was completely dumbfounded -- who in their right mind would even want some sort of device that only spat out a Lilliputian, single-cup load anyway?

Flash forward to 2015, and what do you know, Keurig Green Mountain's annual revenue has surpassed $1 billion. Every post-post-modern office space and neo-neo-yuppie kitchen in the nation has at least one of the units installed, leading other traditional coffee maker manufacturers to abandon their time-tested brewers in favor of similar, single-serve, pod-based apparatuses.

Ever the Luddite, I was opposed to making the leap from my tried-and-true Folgers-in-a-napkin breakfast for quite some time. Then, I got one of the units for my birthday, and figured I might as well see what all the hullabaloo was about.

Now, admittedly, I'm the sort who clings to his nostalgic biases. In our high-definition, liquid crystal display materialist utopia, I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards the outmoded, the archaic and the antediluvian. Today's high-tech, all-in-wonder devices may be spectacular consumer goods, but I still prefer a simplistic, uni-functional approach to product design. I want a toaster that makes toast and a microwave that makes things hot through radioactive technologies that I'm still not 100 percent sure I grasp -- put a clock or a radio or some Internet functionality in that sumbitch and it frustrates me to no end.

With that in mind, the coffee maker is sort of like the cockroach of kitchen grade appliances. Evolution-wise, it really hasn't changed at all over the last half century, while ovens and refrigerators hardly resemble the products from the 1970s whatsoever. I've had my little Mr. Coffee mini-maker for close to 10 years now, and it's outlived every car, computer or video game unit I've ever owned -- and it STILL works just as well as it did the weekend I first purchased it.

Simply put? It's the perfect consumer grade appliance. It's small, discrete, light-weight, easily portable, energy-efficient and it does what it needs to do fast and reliably. The Keurig brewer and its imitators, however, seem to be striving to be the exact opposite, and somehow, the consumers of America have all been duped into "upgrading" to what is -- mechanically and functionally -- an inferior device.

Let's use an automobile analogy, why don't we? My Mr. Coffee is a Honda Accord. It's tiny, gets good gas mileage, is soundly engineered and built to last way longer than it probably should. The Keurig, then, is pretty much a Hummer -- a big, loud, unnecessary competitor that does half as many things as the smaller product, only using three times as much power and at four times the cost.

Outside of style, I really can't think of anything that you're really getting out of the bigger unit. Alas, that's how capitalism works, I suppose -- if you want something big and loud and audacious and you've got the money for it, there's probably going to be somebody out there willing to sell it to you.

But just in terms of sheer function-orientation, I don't know anybody in their right mind can pick the Keurig over my mini-coffee brewer. To begin, let's discuss the size of the products. My mini-maker takes up less than six inches, front, back, and side-to-side, of countertop space. It can be easily stowed away when not in use, and pretty much be placed anywhere as desired for when it is. And it's super-portable, too, with few moving parts.

The Keurig, on the other hand, is an absolute monstrosity. It weighs, without hyperbole, ten times as much as the Mr. Coffee unit and takes up nearly a total square foot of table top space. Instead of a a coffee pot, it comes with a ginormous plastic water container that's built into the unit, which is literally big enough to qualify as a miniature aquarium. While you can detach the tank from the unit, you can forget about filling it up to the top like you would a normal coffee pot -- unless you're some juiced-up body builder or something, there's no way anyone can lift a fully-equipped container using just one arm.

That brings up another structural shortcoming with the product. Since the maker only brews one cup at a time, that means you're going to be leaving water inside the unit for long periods of time. So, if you're a one cup a day man, that means it would probably take you weeks before you wipe out a fully filled water container. The alternative to drinking possibly stagnant H20 is having to manually pour the water container out every day, or learning through trial and error just how much water you have to pour into the unit each morning to brew a decent cup. That's a pain in the ass in and of itself, since if you don't pour enough water into the container, the goddamn unit won't even start brewing. It's the kind of ordeal you never even had to think about with the smaller machines, and that's just the start of it.

Since the Keurig doesn't have a built-in hot plate like a normal coffee maker (it relies on internally-heated water alone to keep your Joe warm), your cup of K-coffee never comes out as warm as it does in a traditional maker. Really, you have a good five minute window with ANY Keurig brewed cup before it becomes frigid, and since it's single-serve-only, it's not like you can just add warmer coffee from the pot to balance out the equation. Unless you enjoy lukewarm Folgers or don't mind running to the microwave every two minutes, I really can't see what the consumer benefit there is.

As you would expect from a bulkier product, the Keurig is also MUCH, MUCH slower and louder than a regular brewer. I actually timed it from fill-up to final brew, and the Keurig device took three times longer to make one cup of coffee. That alone is pretty damning, but that doesn't include all of the additional inconveniences of the product. With my reliable Mr. Coffee unit, I just had to hit one button and two minutes later, I was good to go. With the Keurig though, I had to hit three different buttons for the process to take place. That sounds like I am nitpicking, but when time is a factor, it's absolutely inexcusable. I can walk away and take a shower with my Mr. Coffee running and come back with a pot of java waiting for me, but if I walk away from the K-Cup brewer for just a minute, the entire thing stops dead in its track, waiting for me to hit the "brew" button or select which size cup of coffee I'd like. It's not just inconvenient for a morning-use product, it's downright impractical.

And I'm not joking about the volume of the maker, either. With my mini-maker's timer-mechanism (a feature the newer model of coffee makers lack, it is worth noting), the brewer is set up to start pumping hot water through the unit at the same time every morning. The maker itself is so quiet that I never hear the thing kicking on while I'm still sleeping. The Keurig, however, literally sounds like a dub-step song being played at full-volume, with the whirring heating mechanism making the same kind of sounds you'd expect to come out of a malfunctioning Robocop. Even if the unit did have a built-in timer (and a one-button-does-everything button, I must remind you) I highly doubt anyone would be able to sleep through the racket it produces.

So, it's big, it's loud, it doesn't keep your coffee warm and you have to hoover over it at all times or else it won't do shit for you. All these are rather negative symptoms by themselves, but the HUGE problem with the unit is its price.

The units, depending on which brand you get, are usually four to five times more expensive than the standard old-school brewers. In addition to paying more for less up front, the long-term maintenance costs are WAY higher. I recently did a price comparison of two coffee variations -- a Starbucks dark roast Italian-African-Sri Lankan free-trade organic blend or some bullshit. One package was your standard ground coffee bag, and the other was a box of K-Cups ... I believe 16 per package, of the exact same product.

The bag of coffee cost $7.50. Pretty expensive, to be sure, but the K-Cup box was $11.99. That doesn't really sound like that big of a problem, until you actually look at the net weight of the products: the bag of traditional coffee weighed 340 grams while the K-Cup mix weighed in at just 192 grams. For whatever reason, the barons of Wall Street have decided to charge you, Joe Q. Consumer, 1.3 times as much moolah for barely two-thirds of the exact same product, and nobody seems to give much of a hoot. The disproportionality for consumers, I am sure, is actually much higher, since the K-Cup boxes have to have an inflated overall weight due to the plastic canisters. The actual dollar-to-dollar, product-to-product ratio is probably closer to being half as much overall coffee than the standard bag -- eventually, somebody's going to do the high school science fair study, but we'll probably be just as uninterested about the official results as we are right now concerning the speculative inequality.

Maybe this isn't a problem for the Rockefellers, but for the real American populace, I consider it nothing less than consumer fraud. Under what sort of pricing model can you justify charging people such wildly differential amounts for what is literally the same product? It would be like EA charging $59.99 for Xbox One games, and $89.99 for their PS4 kin. It would raise red flags, and people would be pissed a plenty. However, the coffee sipping masses really don't seem to give one iota about the overcharging going on during the K-Cup revolution, and that bodes poorly not only for the future of commerce, but the democratic state. If we're stocked full of people who are more than willing to plop down an extra four dollars for something they could EASILY pick up for less just because of the packaging, we are mighty fucked when it comes to actual public policy decisions.

The exorbitant price increase CAN'T be because of the plastic thimbles. You can pick up a 300 count coffee filter pack at the Dollar Tree for less than it costs to pick up a Del Taco burrito, so it's not like the alternative is even remotely costly. Is it simply an example of the software trying to make up for the costs of the hardware here? Does the K-Cup maker somehow activate flavor molecules inside the plastic tubs that could never be replicated by normal coffee brewers? Or is it simply the fact that most people are so unconcerned with their finances that they're more than happy to piss away an extra Lincoln a week, just for the sake of being "with it?"

Even the inventor of the damn pods said he regrets doing so, citing the containers as both environmentally-unsound and overly-expensive. Of course, the PR folks at Green Mountain directly addressed the ecological concerns, but as expected, didn't say a darn thing about the toll on consumer wallets.

In a free market, we are free to spend our money on whatever stupid bullshit we want, even the illegal stuff, as long as we don't get caught. Needless to say, ours is a culture that encourages wasteful spending, which -- more so than perhaps even the housing market implosion of 2006 -- is probably the primary reason we had the Great Recession pummel the ever-loving dogshit out of us for so long. With consumer confidence (i.e, Americans' willingness to purchase stuff they don't need) rising, perhaps the popularity of the Keurig-type product isn't surprising. Alas, it's a very grim harbinger of the fiscal fortunes of the average purchaser, who foregoes both thrift and inarguable functionality in favor of marketing hype.

I can see why the product would have appeal to some consumers, namely, the folks who don't drink coffee daily (then again, why you would spend so much money on something you use sparingly is something I just can't wrap my head around it.) But for the average consumer, the things are just needless, and no amount of public relations clap trap can overcome the basic math behind why the products are inferior goods.

The Keurig, I believe, is simply technology for technology's sake, with a price-tag that can't be justified in any way, shape or form. Recently, a lot of Cain was raised about the newer models not reading certain K-Cup containers, itself a sort of weird DSM problem that would have been utterly unfathomable just a decade ago.

As a form of symbolic protest, I have an idea for you. How about taking those K-Cups that don't work in your Keurig, poking them with an ink pen, and feeding them into your old, lonely napkin-and-spoon brewer? Nothing says revolutionary quite like using the past to the co-opt the future ... and in the process, demonstrating that the ways of yore were indeed much better, all around, than the ways of the current.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The 10 Most Dangerous Pro Wrestling Moves Ever!

A celebration of all the life-threatening, vertebrae-shattering maneuvers that make the opera of the Proletariat so enjoyable!

Well, another WrestleMania is right around the corner, and I for one, don't really give a shit. 

Yeah, I was a big fan back in the day, but honestly, I haven't watched a single wrestling card since 2007. I catch the occasional match the Intrawebs tells me I need to periodically, but frankly, after watching so much MMA, I just don't have the patience nor the ability to suspend my disbelief to sit through any modern 'rasslin show. 

Of course, accidents do happen inside the ring, as the tragedies befalling Owen Hart and Droz (and to a much lesser and more hilarious extent, that of JT Smith) will eternally remind us. The thing is, with the high volume of moves that realistically could cause severe, life-threatening injuries -- in conjunction with the fact that oh so many grapplers go into make-believe battle drugged out of their gourds -- you have to consider it nothing less than miraculous that more wrestlers aren't killed or paralyzed. 

To celebrate what is basically the Super Bowl and World Cup of people in their underwear pretending to hurt each other, I decided to do a quick and dirty countdown of the ten most dangerous pro wrestling moves ever attempted -- as in, the moves that either posed life-ending capabilities every time they were performed or COULD feasibly be used as murder methods if one chose to do so. Before we get to the dirty dozen minus two, a few also-rans are worth noting...

Honorable Mentions

Stan Hansen’s Top Rope Lariat

Stan Hansen was the antithesis of the pretty-boy rock-and-roller pro wrestler of the 1980s. With a body that owed more to the Michelin Man than Adonis, he was a tobacco chewing, bull rope lugging nightmare made flesh, who spent most of his career terrifying Japanese audiences as the original Texan hillbilly from hell.

Hansen’s already vicious Lariat was one of the most gimmicklessly violent finishers of its time, a no bullshit, balls-out football-style tackle that involved the 300 pound ball of adipose tissue throwing his beefy bicep at people’s necks at high speeds. So, why don't we make something that could already kill people even likelier to kill people, by having Mr. Hansen perform said maneuver off the freaking top rope? It's a ghoulish sight to behold all right, but sadly, old Stanny boy never really got a chance to perform it that frequently. Had it been a more common maneuver in his arsenal, it no doubt would have made the top 10, but as the grisly aberrant thing it is, unfortunately, an honorable mention is all I can afford it in this countdown.

Kid Kash’s Dead Level

The ECW standout turned WWE curtain jerker may not have had a lot of memorable moments inside the ring, but his finishing maneuver was definitely a hard one to forget.

There's this one move called a brainbuster. It works pretty much how it sounds -- it's a modified suplex that appears to send an opponent landing head first on the mat instead of back first. It's a move pulled off by a lot of grapplers, but I don't think I've ever seen a regular one executed as nerve-racking as Mr. Kash's. The simple fact the cruiserweight was allowed to do the move it all was pretty surprising considering the company's moratorium on most high-risk moves of the like ... how that shit was given the A-OK from Trips and moonsaults were verboten is just one of those great mysteries of life I don't reckon I will ever figure out.

Kevin Steen’s Package Piledriver

The Ring of Honor-trained WWE newcomer has a finisher that’s both gloriously old school and sickeningly violent in the modern sense. Rolling up his foes into a ball, he proceeds to cram them neck first onto the canvas, sans all of the usual protective measures associated with the standard piledriver protocol.

It's the perfect old-school meets new-school finisher. It has the high-gloss visual appeal of the modern era with all of the blunt force trauma grittiness of the territory days -- in short, it's a damn nasty looking move, in the best connotation possible.

Mankind’s Mandible Claw

This one is actually dangerous on quite a few levels. As far as a show business maneuver, it’s conceptually harmless -- the New York Times bestselling author takes his two, big, stubby fingers, delicately crams them in his foe’s mouths and then, they proceed to pretend to slowly pass out. The danger here is two-fold. I mean, really, what’s stopping Mick from ACTUALLY applying the dreaded hold (pioneered by the dude who inspired “The Fugitive,” if you can believe it) which literally paralyzes adversaries in pain? And on top of that, what’s keeping some body from freaking out and chomping the shit out of Mankind’s hand during the process?

And that’s not even exploring the hygienic nightmare posed by the move. Wrestling rings are notorious for being germ factories, and I can’t imagine a nice case of oral staph infection has to feel all that pleasing. On the positive side, however? Since it’s usually Mick Foley doing the move, at least the adversary probably gets a taste of buffalo sauce before acquiring a debilitating immunodeficiency disease, I guess.

And with those lovely runner-ups out of the way, who is ready to get down to the skull-cracking, head-splitting, spine-shattering creme de la creme?

Number Ten:
Crush’s Head Crusher

The grisly beauty of Crush’s finisher is its simplicity -- he merely grabs a dude by his head with both palms, squeezes as hard as he fucking can and if he has to, rag dolls them around until they experience an aneurysm.

I guess it’s an easy move to fake, but at the same time, it’s also a really easy move to use to kill someone in real life. Hell, what if Crush got mad at one of his foes and decided to amp up the pressure a bit? Yeah, most wrestler types could probably escape before serious damage was done, but if he were to apply the hold to a normal sized person, he probably could mash their skulls into a fine powder.

While the head crusher maneuver (frankly, I’m not really sure what the official title is supposed to be) isn’t all that glitzy, it’s certainly one of the more realistically deadly moves to ever get the A-OK in a major U.S. promotion. I mean, shit, I can imagine death row prisoners pulling this one off during a full scale riot … the Worm or the People’s Elbow, not so much.

Number Nine:
Yokozuna’s Bonsai Drop

Sure, the concept of Yoko’s finisher seems almost brutishly simplistic, but factoring in human error, each and every time the guy performed the maneuver he was just a heartbeat away from a manslaughter suit.

For those out of the loop, Yokozuna was a Pacific Islander fella who wasn’t even remotely Japanese. However, he did have the benefit of tipping the scales at 600 pounds at his heftiest, which made his mere existence at least mildly hazardous as an in-ring competitor.

Yoko’s finisher was very rudimentary. He climbed the top turnbuckle (remember, this is a dude who weighed a quarter-ton, so that alone took him awhile), humped air for a few seconds and proceeded to launch himself, colossal ass first, right on his opponent’s sternum. Whoever took on Yoko had to invest an unrealistic amount of faith in him, because if he made just the slightest gaffe, they were literally about to be flattened. Perhaps the most horrifying example occurred in 1996, when Yoko’s gigantic posterior caused the ring to actually implode, nearly crushing his foe (some flash-in-the pan named “Stone Cold” Stephen Austin, or something like that) to death on a live Pay-Per-View broadcast.

Number Eight:
Meng’s Tongan Death Grip

Meng, also known as Haku, is one of the most notorious wrestlers ever, a bona-fide bad-ass who has been known to literally chew off the noses of drunken bar patrons and allegedly pummel a Pac-Man machine to death with his bare hands. Simply put, he is most definitely not the sort you would want to vest your safety and well-being into, in any consideration.

The Tongan Death Grip ranks so highly because a.) it's brutally simple and b.) he actually could use it to feasibly murder another wrestler in the ring and probably make it look like an accident.

Sure, the sight of a 300 pound lard-ass with Troy Polamalu hair grabbing a dude by the trachea and throwing him to the mat may not be the most extravagant aesthetic, but what it lacks in glitz and glamour, it more than makes up for in outright brutality. In a staged bout, it looks nasty, but in a street fight, you KNOW it's probably going to lead to somebody being zipped into a body bag. Beyond being a dangerous move, it's a REALISTIC dangerous move, which makes it all the more nail-biting to witness.

Number Seven:
Chris Jericho’s Liontamer

By normal human standards, the 5’10 220-something Jericho is a pretty big dude. In the wacky, steroid-addled wonderland that was late 1990s ‘rasslin, however, the Winnipeg native was actually one of the smaller stars in the industry.

Most wrestling submission moves are, to say the least, impractical. Think you'd ever see a Scorpion Death Lock or a Figure Four inside the Octagon, or the dreaded Indian Death Lock in a bar room brawl? What makes the Liontamer so effective is that it's actually something you can see happening in a bona-fide mugging -- the fact that it can kill you three or four different ways, even more so.

The move is basically an elevated Boston Crab, which is intended to suggest the hyperextension of the legs and the compression of the spine. In layman's terms? A dude grabs your ankle, sits on you and proceeds to fold you up like an accordion. Jericho's variation on this is even ghastlier, as he makes it an effort to visualize the complete compression of the lower vertabrae to the skull. Once again, in layman's terms? He squeezes people into a ball makes their asses touch the back of their head. And sometimes, he would even dig his knee into their back, to really make things gruesome. Alas, when Jericho jumped ship to the WWF, he had to tone down the move, resulting in the sanitized "Walls of Jericho" finisher. It's still a bit grisly, but if you want to see a REALLY tummy-churning move, go check out some of his earlier WCW cruiserweight match-ups -- just try not to be eating anything when you do, though.

Number Six:
Kenta Kobashi’s Burning Hammer

One of the most time-honored wrestling moves of them all is the piledriver, a semi-homoerotic throw that, invariably, results in someone landing head first on the mat at high speeds.

Legendary purorseu star Kenta Kobashi took the move to sterling new heights in the early 1990s, when he introduced fans the world over to the Burning Hammer, a modified piledriver that makes even Jerry Lawler's old school finisher look like a delicate peck on the cheek by comparison.

The execution here is quite straightforward. Kobashi lifts an opponent over his head in a fireman's carry-like arrangement. Then, he lifts them up and sends them flying to the canvas at a perfect 90 degree angle, skull first. It's not exactly the most graceful sight in the world, but good lord, does it look like it hurts like the Dickens.

Number Five:
El Generico’s Brainbuster

Remember how we were talking about the brainbuster earlier? Well, imagine that already dangerous move, only done from an additional six feet in the air. Pretty chilling sounding, ain’t it? Well, now imagine that same scenario, only instead of your opponent driving you skull-first onto the canvas, you’re sent modula oblongata-first onto a rock-hard, metal ring post.

Independent wrestling sensation El Generico is the pioneer of just such a maneuver, which impossibly, is self-explanatory yet utterly impossible to describe with mere words.

The margin of error with the move has to give most life insurance adjusters hissy-fits. I mean, all it takes is one small misstep and a dude could literally be impaled before a live audience, which typically, isn't the kind of thing low-rent promotions want to become famous for (well, MOST low-rent promotions, anyway.) Needless to say, you really shouldn't try this one at home, kids...

Number Four:
Shane Helms’ Vertebreaker

Of all the piledriver permutations out there, probably the most iconic is The Undertaker’s Tombstone finisher. Indeed, it’s a dangerous move all right, but compared to the next four moves, it’s about as tame as a half-hearted abdominal stretch.

The Vertebreaker is a hard move to describe to non-fans. Basically, Helms begins the move by twisting his foe's arms up like a pretzel, flipping him upside down and draping them over his back, so he can leap up in the air and send their noggins plummeting to the canvas at what can safely be-called "breakneck speeds." The move has indeed been aped by others (most notably, ROH grad Homicide, who calls his version the ever-lovely "Cop Killer"), but I don't think any performer has made it look as spectacularly deadly as Sugar Shane ... or as most WWE fans know him, sigh, "The Hurricane."

The thing that really puts this one over the top is just how little control Helms' has while performing it. With a piledriver, you at least have some spatial control over where and how your opponent hits the mat, but with this variation, the dude is literally flying blind, and if the piledrivee doesn't tuck his head just the right way at just the right moment ... or if Helms makes even a teensy footing error ... well, that's going to lead to a HEFTY chiropractor bill / wrongful death suit.

Number Three:
Petey Williams’ Canadian Destroyer

In a lot of ways, the Canadian Destroyer is a terrible finishing maneuver. Despite its aesthetic awesomeness, it’s absolutely unbelievable in any fashion, and its quite obvious that it’s the piledrivee instead of the piledriver that’s doing all the dadgum work.

That said, just because it kills kayfabe doesn't mean it's not a gruesome looking move. In fact, it's actually one of the most irresponsibly reckless maneuvers ever A-OK'ed by a major promotion, and a move that very, very easily could go awry.

First off, the opponent hits the mat hard, and timing here is absolutely critical. If either Petey or the dude he is piledriving makes just the slightest tuck and roll too soon or too early, somebody is going to wind up bonking their heads unintentionally. The move resides in a rare category, where it poses potential mortal harm to both aggressor and the aggressed. Secondly, it leaves virtually no room for the two wrestlers to actually coordinate the timing, accuracy and eventual ending point of the move -- you literally have one guy going one way beholden to a certain set of mystifying physics and another guy going the opposite way while beholden to a completely different set of mystifying physics. The shocking thing here, ultimately, isn't necessarily who would volunteer for such a move, but more the fact that, as of March 2015, it has yet to produce one funeral.

Number Two:
Scott Steiner’s Steiner Screwdriver

There are really two Scott Steiners. There is the Scott Steiner of the late 1980s and early 1990s, who tag-teamed with his brother and rocked a sweet rats nest mullet and introduced most American wrestling fans to the hurrancanranna, a lucha-libre standard that loosely translated, means “hurricane frog” for some reason. Then, there is the late 1990s and onward Scott Steiner, who became a walking Steroid monster from hell.

Interestingly, both versions of Steiner were known to use an absolutely ghastly move called the Steiner Screwdriver, which if attempted in a street fight, would surely result in first degree homicide charges.

The concept here is painfully simple. Steiner lifts a dude over his shoulders with their buttholes conveniently wedged underneath his nostrils and he merely proceeds to jump up and drive them skull first into the mat from a good six or so feet in the air. It's one of the few pro wrestling moves that's literally stomach churning to witness; me and my pals saw the move on one of the N64 WCW titles and thought it was one of the sickest things we'd ever seen. And then, we saw Steiner ACTUALLY perform it on a living human being ... how that shit didn't lead to some "Faces of Death" B-roll footage, I will never totally understand.

Number One:
Toshiaki Kawada’s Ganso Bomb

What else in the world could have possibly been number one? Granted, it’s an unintentional finisher, but it’s a finisher nonetheless … primarily, in the sense that it could’ve finished Mitsuharu Misawa’s life a good decade earlier than it actually ended.

The decade-long Misawa/Kawada All-Japan rivalry was pretty much as good as wrestling has ever gotten, with their myriad bouts among the absolute greatest ever staged. Their Jan, 1999 Triple Crown throwdown was yet another masterpiece in their already legendary pantheon of bouts, but this time around, there was something a little special about their performances ... namely, the fact that Kawada fucked up and nearly paralyzed another person on live television. 

In the bout, Kawada was clearly aiming for a standard powerbomb -- itself, a pretty dangerous move. However, he appears to have slipped at the last minute, sending his arch-rival hurdling toward the canvas neck first in what any courtroom would easily describe as a murder attempt. Through what can only be described as a divine fluke, Misawa not only did not die instantly, he actually managed to rebound seconds later and carry out the match's original finish, which is sort of like being pummeled half to death in a strong-arm robbery and still hanging around to complete a full eight hour shift. 

Of course, there are scores of variations out there before, after, and kind of within the same timeframe, but no Ganso Bomb (roughly translated, "The Originator's Bomb" instead of the more fitting title "The Killing-A-MuthaFucka-Bomb") has had quite the same impact as Kawada's unforgettable late 1990s botch. Not only is it one of the most memorable moves in pro wrestling history, it's EASILY the most dangerous ever demonstrated inside the squared circle ... well, outside of most Great Khali matches, anyway.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


It may not have been the hyper-violent, anti-consumerist classic the first film was, but it most certainly doesn’t deserve it’s lackluster reputation, either. 

As we are all aware of, “Robocop” isn’t just one of the greatest action movies ever made, it’s also the greatest anti-capitalist screed of all-time. But the film isn’t just amazing because of its critique of the free market, it’s also an utterly exceptional criticism of the totality of American culture. Within the toxic waste-soaked bad guys and baby food target practice and scenes of Red Foreman getting his jugular sliced open with a robotic phallus, there’s a greater commentary on U.S. media than in “Network” and more profound insight into the ills of privatization than anything penned by leftist dinks like Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn.

It was simply preposterous to think that ANY sequel to the film could replicate the smashing success of the original, especially without director Paul Verhoeven at the helm. Still, the formula for a decent follow-up was already there -- all you need is blood, guts, a whole lot of bullets, a metric ton of wry commentary on United States sociopolitics and at least one scene of stop-motion animation cyborgs slaying an entire board room meeting and we are all set. Sure, we may not have ended up with an “Aliens” or “Spider-Man 2” type-flick that surpassed the original, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t have gotten our hands on a way above average, as-good-as-they-could-have-made-it sequel a’la the second “Rocky” and “Halloween” films.

While “Robocop 2” is not a film without its fair share of faults and flaws, at the end of the day, I think it’s a fairly underrated little movie, and had it been a stand-alone flick sans the “Robocop” albatross, we’d probably be looking back on it as an unsung mini-classic from the early 1990s.

Structurally, the overall vibe of the film follows the original quite closely. As they were at the end of the first movie, the Detroit police department are on strike and OCP is moving in on purchasing the city. With the gang responsible for Alex Murphy’s death now all deader than Elvis, Robocop finds himself staring down a different kind of war, this time against the manufacturers of a highly potent, society-eroding street drug called Nuke. (Not to be confused with the ill-advised children's film "Nukie," of course.)

The main bad guy this time around is a weird clan of criminals consisting of Cain, a hippie-dippie cult-leader who likes to slice open the chest cavities of cops, his Rae Dawn Chong-flavored moll and an 11-year-old kid in a business suit who likes to swear a lot. While hot on their trail, Robocop seems to experience pangs for his past life, at one point driving by his wife’s house to just stare at his son like some kind of metalloid creeper.

The suits at Omni Consumer Products are as unscrupulous as ever, hard at work on a replacement Robocop unit -- if only the could find the perfect central nervous system to plunk down inside the gears and wires of the Iron Man suit. After Robocop is effectively “stripped” by the bad guys -- ingeniously, they capture him with a giant magnetic and jackhammer his limbs off -- he’s reprogrammed to think and act like a complete and total jack-ass, giving hammy lectures to juvenile delinquents and choosing to shut off overflowing fire hydrants while meth runners have tank battles in the middle of a playground. Eventually, he decides to fry himself all over again, and this time, all of his prime directives are wiped clean so now he’s a revenge seeking mother-fucker unhindered by all of that nonsense about not killing people.

After Cain is apprehended, he’s selected to be the grey matter for the “Robocop 2” prototype. Apparently, the suits at OCP figured a drug-addicted mass killer would be easier to control SINCE he’s a substance abuser, which makes me really, really glad the guys at Enron and Lehman Brothers never got into the private security business. In a money laundering deal gone bad between Cain’s surviving cronies and the nearly bankrupt (both financially and morally) Detroit City Council, OCP sends “Robocop 2” in to kill half the cast, including the film’s middle-school antagonist. With Detroit defaulting on a loan, OCP unveils its model for Delta City, complete with a guest appearance by, you guessed it, the same drug-addicted psycho-killer mech from earlier. Unsurprisingly, the robotic abomination goes plum crazy, and its up to the original Robo to save the Motor City from destruction -- and cue our twenty-minute-long cyborg kung-fu paint-the-town-red apocalypse-bonanza, complete with an up-close scene of Peter Weller smashing a dude’s exposed brains into a pothole twice.

Yeah, yeah, the movie doesn’t have the charm of the original, and while its violence is just a smidge toned down from the original, I still reckon this is a mighty damn fine example of good, old-fashioned degenerate Hollywood filmmaking. Yeah, there are some pathos thrown in there, but audiences heading into a movie called “Robocop 2” want action, action and more action, not drawn out, lingering shots of a dude dressed up like a washing machine looking wistful up against a rain-slicked window seal.

Of course, the film isn’t in the same league as the first flick. That’s a given. That said, the film at least TRIES to be its own picture, even if some of the carry-over tricks from the first film -- the upbeat newscast pastiches and mocking television advertisements, primarily -- aren’t as whip-smart as in pelicula numero uno.

You really can’t talk about the movie without first talking about the script. The original screenplay was penned by Frank Miller -- who actually has a cameo in the film as Cain’s main drug chemist -- but apparently, it was a goddamn mess that didn’t work as a nine-part comic series, let alone a big budget feature film. So, veteran scriptwriter Walon Green was brought in by Orion to polish up Miller’s turd, and the end result -- in my humblest ‘o opinions -- ain’t bad at all. Virtually everybody who wasn’t in a body bag at the end of the first movie returned for this one, and the acting, I think, is pretty much on par with the first one.

Ultimately, I think the big problem with “Robocop 2” is the atmosphere. There was this sense of pained, pitiable stoicism that Murphy exhibited in the first film that we really don’t see in this picture, and that really detracts from its impact.

Overall, this just feels like a much cleaner, more sanitized film than the first movie. Everything is brighter and more vibrant, and the blood explosions are nowhere near as massive as they were the first go-around. The movie really doesn’t have that supreme gross-out moment like the part where Emil gets eviscerated on the hood of the SUX 9000, or even a stand-up-and-cheer communal bloodlust scene like when Dick Jones gets defenestrated. It’s not as cerebral and biting as the first film, but at the same time, it just doesn’t provide the same satisfying, extra-large bucket of popcorn movie-going experience, either.

As I was saying earlier, however, if you can manage to stop comparing every single frame of the film to the original, you come to appreciate “Robocop 2” for what it is and isn’t. OK, so it’s not the social satire masterpiece the first film was, but it’s not exactly a Joel Schumacher, light-and-fluffy bastardization, either. It’s certainly more comical than the original, but it definitely has its moments of bleakness -- I mean, shit, there’s a part where Robocop has to read the last rites to a junior high school kid bleeding to death, for crying aloud. Of course, it’s in the same movie which features a robot man smashing a dude’s head into a “Midnight Resistance” arcade machine, but I digress.

Some have argued that Cain and his posse aren’t as interesting as the clique of cretins in the first film. That, I agree with -- in hindsight, I really wished the filmmakers would have stuck to Miller’s original character, which was a religious fundamentalist psycho with a Jesus complex. Conversely, Peter Weller’s performance doesn’t have quite the emotional impact it did in part one, even if his performance here is much more varied. The OCP goons aren’t as engrossing, and the rest of the cast -- namely, Officer Lewis and the mayor -- just feel like they don’t have that much to do except gnaw on the scenery.

A lot of people took offense to the subplot about Robocop being reprogrammed to a PG-13-worthy pussified version of himself, but I thought it was nonetheless a nice dig at all of the executive meetings that surely had to have happened during pre-development. It’s clear that the suits at Orion wanted the sequel to be a little bit more kid-friendly than the first, but at the end of the day, they wisely decided to keep this one an R-rated bloodbath extravaganza.

The sociopolitical commentary isn’t as deftly handled this time around, but I actually kind of liked the subplot about OCP trying to force Detroit into a default -- a thematic made all the more hilarious when the city ACTUALLY did end up filing for bankruptcy a good 23 years down the road. Although I would have liked to have seen a more humanistic portrayal of the main character (the scene between Murphy and his wife, I thought, could have lent to some superb, above-the-grade-and-above-the-genre sequences,) the more grizzled, vigilante-esque version of Robo we get later on in the movie is pretty satisfying, too. I mean, the dude is willing to jack another guy’s motorcycle solely for the sake of running headlong into the windshield of the film’s primary bad guy -- had the producers of part 3 went with a similar hard-R bent, it probably would’ve turned into a similarly better-than-it-had-any-right-to be sequel.

Alas, I think it’s a solid little movie. It’s no “Hardware” or “The Running Man,” but for what it is, it’s quite respectable. It’s a fun, dumb, high-energy motion picture that’s long on style, short on substance and filled with unrepentant slam-bang-pow-wow school-shooter influencing mayhem -- in short, it’s precisely the kind of Bush the First-era, post Reaganomics cinematic madness that made the post Genesis, pre-SNES years such a wonderful time to be alive.

And as far as I am concerned? It’s far and away the best movie ever directed by Irvin Kershner, and it’s not even close…