Re-Watching Backdraft (1991)

When Backdraft originally debuted back in 1991, I desperately wanted to see it. As I’ve explained before though, my parents weren’t the movie theater type. And as I was only 13 at the time of its release, I wasn’t going to be going by myself. The closest I got to it was having to hear my brother talk about how great it was after he and his friends saw it. But a year later, it was on HBO and other channels like it all the time so I got to see it finally thanks to the cable descrambler we had. My brother and I probably watched in a dozen time that summer it debuted on PPV and HBO.

It’s about a group of Chicago firefighters on the trail of a serial arsonist who is targeting various victims who are contractors who are connected to each other and a high-ranking city official.

Stephen McCaffrey (Russell) is the Lueinent of Engine Company 17, and his younger brother Brian (Baldwin) is a probationary fireman assigned to the company after graduation from the academy.  The two brothers are the sons of a legendary Chicago firefighter who lost his life battling a blaze while young Brian watched on.  As the movie reveals, the two brothers have never been close, and are at odds with each other more than on the same page.

After several firehouses are shut down due to budget cuts, the arsonist starts taking out the decision-makers behind those cuts by setting deadly “backdraft’ fires to murder them.  Company 17 finds itself as the company that ends up fighting those fires, while Inspector Donald Rimdale (DeNiro) is the one tasked with finding the arsonist behind the attacks.  It all climaxes at a large fire at a chemical plant where the killer is revealed and the McCaffrey brothers must stop him once and for all.  All while battling the huge blaze.

Growing up in the ’80s with a Dad who was the local fire department chief, I was always fascinated by firemen and firefighting in general.  Now while I was never a fireman myself, I do know more about it than most others who were not.  And what you see in Backdraft is pretty close to how things are.  The camaraderie displayed between the firemen in the film feels real and on point.  And the firefighting sequences are top-notch.  The arson investigation is pretty straightforward, but you can’t really guess who is behind it until near the end of the film when everything comes together.  The writers did a pretty good job though of trying to lead you to one conclusion of who the killer is before revealing the true villain.  

Backdraft was a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, and everything about the movie was well executed.  The story arc of Kurt Russell’s Stephen McCaffrey may be the best thing about the film.  From being the overprotective brother to being the ultimate badass fireman, right through to the final confrontation and climax, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey was a story well told. Kurt Russell was more than the commander of Engine Company 17…he also carried a commanding presence in his performance.

Backdraft was a blockbuster in its time for a reason and is still a yearly summer re-watch for me even now.  It was a “big” movie with a big cast who were hitting on all cylinders at the time, and it lived up to the hype with its special effects and storytelling.  There’s not much more that you could ask from a movie like this. 

4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999)

I didn’t grow up a Star Wars fan. While I knew of the series’ existence, was familiar with how popular all of the movies were, and had even seen a little bit of Return of the Jedi at a birthday party in the mid-80s, I had just never searched out the movies out to watch them. I even played with my brother’s hand-me-down toys. I enjoyed playing with the action figures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Storm Trooper, Tuken Raider and more, along with the Ewok’s treehouse and the Millenium Falcon. But I still didn’t fell the need to try and watch the movies.

Then sometime around late 1992 or early 1993, USA was showing Star Wars on a Friday night, and I decided to make it my entertainment for that night. I really enjoyed it, but they didn’t show the other two. But in the late spring or early summer of 1993, they showed all three movies on consecutive nights from Tuesday through Thursday, and I made it a point to watch all three. Over the course of those three nights, I became a fan. I even watched all three again the following Sunday when USA ran them back-to-back-to-back throughout the afternoon and evening.

Later on, I picked up a few of the Dark Horse comic book series to be able to experience more of the universe, but that was as far as I went with my fandom. But in early 1999, I became aware that a new prequel series would be dropping, and I was excited. Not like true blue Star Wars fanboys, but I was excited nonetheless.

My local theater was relatively new having only opened two years earlier, so the technology there was still top-notch. As a matter of fact, they were one of the first theaters in the world to install the Lucas-designed surround sound system ahead of The Phantom Menace being released. Add in the fact that they would be offering the first showing of the new release at 12:01 AM that fateful Friday, and the fact that they would be playing it in multiple theaters around the clock earned it the designation of the number one place in the world to see the new Star Wars movie.

While I didn’t go to the 12:01 AM showing, I did reserve tickets for the 7:00 PM showing on opening night and bought ten tickets so that any of my friends interested in going would have seats. I found no shortage of people who wanted to go that night. The crowd roared its approval as the familiar Star Wars “crawl” rolled up the screen and we all settled in to enjoy the unique experience together.

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace features Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young apprentice Jedi knight under the tutelage of Qui-Gon Jinn; Anakin Skywalker, who will later father Luke Skywalker and become known as Darth Vader, is just a 9-year-old boy. When the Trade Federation cuts off all routes to the planet Naboo, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan are assigned to settle the matter. Along the way they meet the underwater race of the Gungans, discover a new Sith apprentice is after them, and have to help free the Naboo from the Trade Federation and battle the Sith apprentice known as Darth Maul.

Now in the years since the film was released, the prequel has caught a lot of crap. But for someone like me who was never a serious fanboy, I had no issues with the prequels in general, or The Phantom Menace in particular. I thought it was an amazingly fun film and a great experience in the theater.

Having watched the movie another dozen times since that initial viewing, I still feel the same way. What Lucas and team was able to put on screen was beautiful and captivating. While I never cared much for the character of Jar Jar Binks, I’m not overly annoyed with him like most of the fanbase. I really don’t care either way.

The cinematography is top-notch in The Phantom Menace, with every shot being epic and beautiful. The story filled in some gaps and questions from the original trilogy, and you couldn’t really ask for much more action than the film provided.

The initial battle scene between the Jedi and the Trade Federation droids, the underwater chase scene, the pod race, the big battle on Naboo between the Gungans and the Droids, the fighter battle in space, and the fantastic final showdown between the Jedi and Darth Maul were all packed with excitement.

So while a lot of serious Star Wars fans pick nits with the film, as a casual fan, I think it’s great, and recommend it to anyone who has never seen it, and urge those who have to give it another look and appreciate what was accomplished by the filmmakers.

4.0 stars.

Rewatching Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused hit the silver screen in 1993, but somehow I didn’t notice at the time. It took another couple of years for me to become aware of its existence. I was sitting in English class one day and one of my friends was quoting it. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he clued me in and stressed that I needed to see this movie. It still took me a couple of years to get around to it, but when I finally did, I was an instant fan.

Dazed and Confused tells the story of the last night of school for a group of high schoolers and junior high schoolers. A party is planned, a party is busted, and another party is planned to replace the first one. In between all of this, the many characters of the film weave in and out of each other’s storylines and spend their night cruising around, hanging out at the local game room, drinking, getting high, and thinking about the next phases of their lives. It’s hard to imagine how you could pack so many characters and storylines into a movie about a single night, but Dazed and Confused pulls it off perfectly without it seeming like too much is going on.

The movie is a good interpretation of a night in the life of a teenager in the late ’70s. In those days before the internet when people had “nothing to do”, so they spent their time hanging out with and talking with each other. What a novel concept. The fashion, the cars, and especially the soundtrack combine for an amazing cinematic experience. And the actors all pull off their characters well, and some shine as bright as the sun in theirs. Personally, Matthew McConaughey’s “Wooderson” is not only my favorite character in this movie but is one of my favorite movie characters of all time.

I was a teenager in the ’90s just before the big boom of the internet, and some of my fondest memories of those times is doing exactly what the kids in this film did to kill time. Cruising around town, hanging out with friends, and talking about everything that mattered to us, even if those things didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. This movie brings those times back to mind every time I watch it, and I connect with it on a nostalgic level.

But you don’t have to have that kind of connection to Dazed and Confused to enjoy it. It’s a great coming-of-age comedy with a fantastic soundtrack that just breezes by while you watch it.

4.0 stars for the movie thanks to the whole vibe it puts off, and the nostalgia connected to it.

Pumpkin Spice Frosty

The 2023 Halloween junk food season is a good one so far. I highlighted a variety of our finds last week, but the hunts continue so there is probably another couple of those posts to come. But for this post, I want to focus on a single item…the new Pumpkin Spice Frosty from Wendy’s.

I didn’t have to seek this one out…it came to me. About three weeks ago, our friend Tony from Retro-Daze posed a question to everyone in the TRN Clubhouse. He asked if anyone had heard anything about a Pumpkin Spice Frosty. Until I read his question I had not. But I have an inside source as my youngest daughter works at Wendy’s. I immediately went to her and posed the same question. She gave me a look and said that she really wasn’t supposed to say anything. I kept staring at her until she said she didn’t know, but that a button for a Pumpkin Spice Frosty had appeared on the cash register. That was all the confirmation I needed.

I told her that when they were available I’d like to try one. Then a couple of days later the official news broke that it was indeed a thing. Fast forward to this past Sunday when she came home from work with a sample size of the new fall treat for me to try.

I want to say something before I go any further. I’m a guy who feels like there is only one kind of Frosty, and that’s the original chocolate version that we all grew up with. A few years ago they started rolling out vanilla and strawberry options, but to me, those aren’t Frostys. The only thing I have to say to defend this position is that I’m old, stubborn, and set in my ways.

Anyway, I gave this new Pumpkin Spice Frosty a try and it’s not bad. It’s certainly good enough to have another before the season is over. Mine was a little melted by the time it reached my hands so that may have something to do with my feelings on it. As in, it’s good, but not over-the-moon good. I still prefer the chocolate.

But at the same time, it’s good enough that it’s worth going to get one if you like pumpkin spice things in general. I just wish they would call their non-chocolate creations something besides a Frosty. That name should be reserved for the original. And if you want to know more about what I think about Wendy’s and its offerings through the years, you can check out my post The Things I Miss About Wendy’s. Everyone else on the internet has, and you should too.

Re-Watching SummerSlam ’98

Being a big fan of old-school wrestling, I sometimes go back in time and old wrestling shows via the WWE Network on Peacock. Over the holiday weekend, nostalgia got the better of me and I decided to go back and re-watch what I remember being a great summer-themed show, WWE’s SummerSlam ’98.

In 1998, the then WWF was in the middle of its Attitude Era, and the storylines and action leaned more towards the controversial than it had in previous years. As an example, it was just two short months prior to this event that The Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage in a scene that is still held up as a symbol of the Attitude Era.

I have to admit, I was guilty of enjoying trashy, crash-style television at the time including Jerry Springer, the WWF, and other offerings. I watched Monday Night Raw religiously every week and caught every PPV event the WWF offered, so I was pumped heading into this event. SummerSlam is one of the traditional big four events of the year, so extra emphasis was put on this show.

Most of the hype for SummerSlam ’98 was centered on the rivalry between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker, and with the World Heavyweight Championship being on the line in the main event, the hype was off the charts. They even produced a pretty swank video package set to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell to hype it even more:

Just because they put a lot of effort into hyping the main event didn’t mean they ignored the rest of the card. Vince McMahon, Vince Russo, and the rest of the gang put together a solid card from top-to-bottom with plenty of intrigue throughout:

  • WWF World Title: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker
  • WWF Intercontinental Title Ladder Match: The Rock vs. Triple H
  • WWF Tag-Team Title Falls Count Anywhere Match: Mankind & Kane vs. The New Age Outlaws
  • Lion’s Den Match: Ken Shamrock vs. Owen Hart
  • Mixed Tag Team Match: Sable & Edge vs. Marc Mero & Jackie
  • Hair vs. Hair Match: X-Pac vs. “Double J” Jeff Jarrett
  • 4-on-3 Tag Match: Kaientai vs. The Oddities
  • WWF European Title Match: D-Lo Brown vs. Val Venis

I don’t intend to run down every match detail by detail, nor do I intend to give you the winner in every match either. If I did all of that, it wouldn’t leave you much incentive to go check it out for yourself. Instead, what I intend to do is kind of review it through a few lists I came up with while watching. So without further ado, here we go.

The Five Best Matches From SummerSlam ’98

In my own personal opinion of course.

  1. The Rock vs. Triple H Intercontinental Title Ladder Match – it featured plenty of drama, high-risk moves with the ladder, and a satisfying ending to not only the match itself, but the storyline that had been running for months involving Degeneration X feuding with the Nation of Domination.
  2. D-Lo Brown vs. Val Venis European Title Match – Even though this was the show opening match and it wasn’t designed to take the spotlight from other, higher profile matches on the card, it did. The chemistry was incredible and the two performers put on a clinic in how to get a crowd pumped up for the rest of the action they will be seeing.
  3. Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker WWF World Title Match – This was the main event, and it certainly had a big-fight feel to it, but the action felt a little underwhelming in comparison to the first two matches I mentioned.
  4. X-Pac vs. Double J Hair vs. Hair Match – Both of these men have been excellent performers since they first got in the business, and with several years to perfect their craft under their belts, they came out and gave an electrifying performance filled with great back and forth action.
  5. Ken Shamrock vs. Owen Hart Lion’s Den Match – In what was a brutal mix of pro wrestling and UFC, the Lion’s Den match was pretty great seeing Owen and Shamrock going hold for hold and shot for shot.

My Five Favorite Performances From SummerSlam ’98

  1. Owen Hart – getting to see a true master of his craft lead a less experienced opponent through a cool match concept was a treat.
  2. Mankind – From his interview at the beginning of the show bemoaning his destroyed hearse, to his promo with Vince McMahon later on, the the performance he gave taking a beating from the New Age Outlaws, Mankind turned in a fine night.
  3. Val Venis – Val was still a relative newcomer, but he had his gimmick down to a science, and he and D-Lo pulled out a heck of a match to open the show.
  4. X-Pac – Like I said earlier, X-Pac had been perfecting his craft for years up to this point, and he put his many talents on display in his match on this show. Even watching it twenty-fours years after it happened, it still felt fresher than anything I’ve seen in modern wrestling in a long time.
  5. Mark Henry – in the early stages of his “sexual chocolate” gimmick, watching him try to put the moves on Chyna was just flat out entertaining.

My Five Favorite Spots of the Night

  1. The Undertaker driving Austin through a table on the floor by deliverying a leg drop frm the top rope of the ring.
  2. The Rock giving an early People’s Elbow to Triple H while Triple H was on a ladder.
  3. Triple H attempting a move from the top of the ladder only to be caught with a Rock Bottom.
  4. Edge’s dive over the top rope onto Marc Mero on the floor.
  5. Jeff Jarret using an atomic drop to crotch X-Pac on the post on the floor.

The Ten Most 1998 Things About SummerSlam ’98

  • The Rock’s sideburns.
  • The Insane Clown Posse being involved.
  • Val Venis and his aggressive porn star gimmick.
  • X-Pac using the terms “biotch” and “suck it” during his pre-match promo.
  • The mass of Austin 3:16 and DX shirts in the crowd.
  • The quote, “My name’s not Elmo, but you can tickle me any time”.
  • Both of the New Age Outlaws wearing Southpark shirts in their match.
  • Jim Ross having to apologize for saying “son of a bitch” on the air.
  • The announcers talking about the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. FYI, McGwire led on this date 55-54.
  • Jim Dotson and his hat.

Other Thoughts I Had While Watching SummerSlam ’98

  • D-Lo claiming to be from a different home town in Europe every week while European Champion was a great touch.
  • The referee in the opening bout was one tough son of a gun for taking Val Venis’ moneyshot finisher.
  • I could have done without seeing Kurrgan dancing.
  • The Godwins going from hillbillys to Dixie Mafia-esque tough guys called Southern Justice was one of the better make overs of the year.
  • The fiery gates of hell entrance way was a great setup.
  • The New York City buses being wrapped with ads for this SummerSlam in the week leading up to the show was great.
  • The hair clippers for the hair vs. hair match didn’t work. I don’t believe the clippers have ever worked in any hair vs. hair match ever.
  • Howard Finkle doing the crotch chop was not needed.
  • Seeing Edge make his pay-per-view debut and realizing he is main eventing shows today is surreal.
  • The “Marvelous” Marc Mero gimmick wouldn’t get over in today’s world.
  • Jackie was so far ahead of her time as a female wrestler.
  • The Lion’s Den match concept needs to be brought back. Maybe bill it as “Pit Fighting”.
  • The greatness of Owen Hart was not fully appreciated by the masses until it was too late. We lost him just nine months after this show.
  • Ken Shamrock being billed as a former “UFC Superfight” champion feels so out of place in today’s world.
  • I wonder how they Kane in that dumpster?
  • The ladder match made both The Rock and Triple H bonafied wrestling superstars for good from that point on.
  • Steve Austin and The Undertaker didn’t have great chemistry in their first high-profile match together. That would change.

So that’s it. I re-watched SummerSlam ’98 and thoroughly enjoyed it. You should go check it out on Peacock if you’re a fan of old school wrestling. Now I just have to decide what my next old school wrestling rewatch should be.

Thoughts on Masters of the Universe: Revelation

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the new Masters of the Universe: Revelation series on Netflix this weekend. I had been under the weather all week and didn’t want to start the series until I was well enough to really pay attention to it and soak it in without being in a medicinal stupor.

While I managed to avoid actual spoilers all week long, I wasn’t able to avoid reading all the negative thoughts and comments on the series. I saw takes that decried how the property was now dead thanks to what Kevin Smith had done with it, and takes blaming the “wokeness” of the times taking over and causing the series’ focus to be changed, and takes on how the whole thing was one big bait and switch. But because I love the franchise so much, I was determined to watch it and decide for myself how I felt about it. And boy am I glad I did. For this edition of Retro Ramblings, let me share with you my thoughts on it.


*Spoilers Ahead*

First, let me just get my overall take out of the way… I LOVED it! I feel like some of the folks complaining about it are only upset that it didn’t fit their expectation of what they were wanting to see, and not judging it on what it actually is. What it actually is is a very well-conceived and executed next step in the Masters of the Universe mythos. Like, if you think of the original series and the 2002 series as an era in the history of Eternia, then Revelation is the next era, and it’s a really exciting and intriguing era. The beauty of it though is that it wouldn’t be near as enjoyable without all of the history we already know. If Revelation is your first foray into this universe, there’s probably not much that is going to stand out to you. But for longtime fans, there is so much greatness highlighted that every episode has numerous things that catch your attention. Here are some of the things I enjoyed most about the first five episodes:

  • The battle at Castle Grayskull in the first episode. So many warriors on each side made it look like a scene from a Lord of the Rings movie.
  • Learning that Castle Grayskull was just a facade put up to hide the Hall of Wisdom.
  • Having the power sword broken in half, bringing back the mythos of the two swords from the original mini-comics
  • Preternia being represented on screen by what the huge Eternia playset looked like
  • The conflict between backers of both magic and science and how the two are at odds. The original toy line and series was based on the fact that Eternia was where magic met science. I love this concept.
  • The alliance of characters that set out to find the two halves of the power sword. Blurring the lines of good and evil by putting them all together with great motives for being involved.
  • All of the characters that got screen time like Scareglow, Mer-Man, Clawful, Stinkor, Fisto, Roboto, Whiplash, and of course all of the usual suspects like Evil-Lynn, Beast Man, and the rest.
  • Portraying Man-at-Arms Duncan as the real most dangerous man in Eternia.
  • Tri-Klops as the leader of a science cult.
  • Orko finally getting to show what a badass he could have always have been.
  • Teela getting the spotlight.
  • Showing what a powerul and deep character Evil-Lynn really is.
  • And that scene when Prince Adam is calling down the power of Grayskull only to be struck down from behind by a returning Skeletor. That was certainly an unexpected by much appreciated moment.

As you can see there, I found a lot to love about this new series, and now I can’t wait for the next five episodes to drop.

If folks out there want to see more stories in the same mold as what we’ve always gotten featuring the struggles and battles between He-Man and Skeletor, I guess this probably does disappoint them. But we already have so many of those stories, and while there is probably a limitless amount of more of those stories that can be told, I genuinely appreciate this bold new direction. It’s like we’re no longer stuck in the endless loop of battle that we’ve seen so many times, and now we’re rocketing into the future with new and unexpected developments.

From all I’ve seen online, I guess this puts me in the minority, but I really dig this new series and look forward to seeing more of it. For the first time in many years, I have no idea what to expect from the Masters of the Universe, and that makes me feel like a kid again.

    The Things I Loved About 2020

    2020 may very well go down as one of the worst years on record. We’re talking top 10 all time if I had to guess off the top of my head. But I’m trying to pick out some of the good things from this year instead of continuing to focus on the bad.

    Below are 10 things I loved about this year. I hope you can find some things you loved about it too. Give it some thought and post your list in the comments.

    The Mandalorian!

    Now I know that The Mandalorian debuted in 2019, but I didn’t pick up Disney+ until January of 2020. The first thing we watched on the service was some episodes of The Gummi Bears, but the second was The Mandalorian. We binged the whole first season over a Saturday and Sunday, and when season 2 dropped, we watched every episode as they aired.

    I’ve always considered myself a casual Star Wars fan. I don’t have to be at the theater on opening night to see a new release, and I don’t really collect anything associated with the brand. But I’m telling you right now, The Mandalorian is one of my favorite shows of the last several years.

    To me, it’s a great western. There are certainly plenty of Star Wars references of course, but it just feels like a western to me. And that’s a good thing. I’ll take a heavy dose of Star Wars lore in my wild west feeling show.

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