And Millar is back to kicking it well.

Kick-Ass 3

Price: $15.80 

(4.5/5)

Pros: Very interesting storyline, characters, ending, and brutal action

Cons: Some small writing issues

Together with Mindy aka Hit-Girl, Dave Lizewski aka Kick-Ass were able to raise a superhero army to battle against their nemesis Red Mist, whom raised an army of super villains to go on a rampage. They narrowly defeated his group and Kick-Ass was able to avoid being arrested. Unfortunately,  Hit-Girl was captured and sent to prison. Now together with his group called Justice Forever, Kick-Ass plans to break Hit-Girl out of prison. -summary

Kick-Ass written by Mark Millar was a series that grabbed me instantly due to its thought provoking and down to Earth premise. The original story focused on a group of comic book fans whom wanted to don costumes and become superheroes, while ignoring the dangers of attempting something so out of the ordinary. The point of the story was that anyone was capable of doing good things if they had the motivation for it; however, there were consequences such as dying a very early death either through accidents or by pissing off the wrong people.

The original Kick-Ass story actually had a point despite being brutally delivered in the form of child combatants; it was something that could actually make one think. The character development was sharp, with edgy storytelling chockfull of dark comedy and social consciousness. Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 2 was nothing like this. I think the series went to hell with Kick-Ass 2, as Mark Millar abandoned his original concept thrusting the characters into the roles of archetypes and taking the cheap way out by cranking the violence up to 11. The sequel felt as if Millar was simply milking the name for all it was worth. Thankfully, Kick-Ass 3 feels more like  a return to its roots, and I’m willing to forgive Millar for that last travesty. Kick-Ass 3 is the final chapter, with this TPB collecting issues 1 – 8.

The plot picks up with Dave attempting to follow Hit-Girl’s plan to spring her from prison, but after botching the attempt he plans to take down the next mobster instead; whom is none other than the uncle of Red Mist.  Millar’s writing simply rules for the most part as he continues portraying these characters as good people whom want to do the right thing, however they are terribly roped into the comic book world. They know that their lives are on the line, yet at the same time they’re just not taking these situations seriously, such as Dave hoping to re-enact a segment out of Batman: Year One to strike fear in the hearts of criminals.  Later on, Dave finally ends up with a girlfriend, and he begins to see that the world has more to offer; this leads him to realize that the whole superhero thing was a form of escapism for him due to his regular life just not being all that good. This thrusts him into conflicting emotions on whether if he should just settle down or continue risking his life.

This is the type of writing that drew me into Millar’s work. I was interested in Dave again, and I was pulling for him to take a chance in enjoying a regular life. Fortunately, there is so much going on within the story, that the reader will find other things to grab their interest. There are several sub plots and even twist, which keeps the story very well paced and interesting.  There is also plenty of action too, but it’s quite toned down from the second volume which I deem the most brutal. There is a lot I like about this book, and I liked the ending so much since it was a proper send off for most of the characters, and I didn’t see some of those things coming.

I really wanted to like this book a lot more. Unfortunately, the juvenile side of Millar’s personality surfaces while developing parts of Dave’s relationship. Some things simply should have been left up to the imagination, and on a few occasions the traditional superhero clichés pop up.

John Romita Jr. continues with his gritty, street level artwork that has been a trade mark for the series. I like his various character designs; there is a lot of range across the board with little shortcuts being taken. It’s not like Steve Dillon’s artwork for example, where everyone has the same face and on many occasions even body type. The action panels are highly entertaining with a swift kick in the balls looking painful as usual. The carnage is well delivered with bullet holes straight through bodies, brains blown out, and free beatings dished out.  Plus Millar’s dialog is still just as great with some sick lines packed with loads of dark humor.

In summary, if you loved the first two series then you’ll love Kick-Ass 3. If you hated the series due to a disdain for child combatants or whatever reasons. Then don’t even waste your time because it’s more of that. I personally feel this chapter redeemed the series and I can easily read this again.  If you’re unfamiliar with this series I highly suggest starting from the beginning. If you like brutal, action packed comics in line with The Punisher for example, then this is for you.

Animated pugilism that leaves the viewer breathless.

Fighting Spirit: Complete Collection Part 1

See it at Amazon

(4.5/5)

Pros: Wonderful feel good story, interesting characters, great action, and very good animation

Cons: Some minor writing issues

Ippo Makunouchi is a timid teen with no friends and is constantly bullied by bigger guys. One afternoon he’s being beaten by his usual bullies until he’s rescued by up and coming boxer Takamura. He later takes Ippo to the gym to recover, and from there Ippo finds his passion in the sport of boxing. -summary

Shonen anime featuring characters fighting for whatever reasons has been a dime a dozen for as long as I can remember. I am a fan of these types of shows, but even I’ll admit that they have grown quite stale over the years with so many of them borrowing heavily from Dragonball Z. Fortunately, every once in a while something would show up with so much more to offer than just the next fight. Fighting Spirit aka Hajime No Ippo is one of those shows, and it has actually been my favorite anime of this type for several years.  The show is based on the manga by George Morikawa and directed by Satoshi Nishimura. This collection contains the first part of the series, episodes 1 – 40 and clocks in at 920 minutes.

This is one of those anime titles with so many positive things to say, that it’s kind of difficult to know where to start. I’ll mention first that the story is definitely among its strongest features. The writing team did quite a bit of research on the art of boxing. They not only tend to focus on the next fight, but also all of the struggles a boxer will have to go through in their training regimen preparing for a fight. There are some grueling moments such as following characters as they spar,  run or jog, and even diet to make weight.

There is rarely a dull moment to be found, but the story elements would never be as strong if not for the characters. Ippo and the other boxers in his gym end up growing up to become something of a family, and the viewer will get to know them well enough. They do follow some of the standard Shonen anime clichés, but it’s really difficult not to like this group. They are really big on horse-play, yet they know when it’s time to get down to business.

The comedic moments mainly involve the main characters, and their antics fit very well within the show’s style. There’s a proper balance going on here for those whom despise that severe clashing of genres. The show really isn’t that serious to begin with honestly, therefore there’s no serious tone here to really sacrifice. Even the level of violence is pretty tame and does not consist of overly gory sequences.

Since I just mentioned the action in some form; the action sequences are brutal with plenty of hard-hitting blows. I must commend the production team for providing the bone crushing sound effects. The blows have a serious impact behind them that works very well working into the show’s atmosphere. Some of these confrontations can feel like a viewer is sitting right at ring side. The head shots, body blows, clashing of gloves, all are done with some meticulous detail. This also flows down into the animation; this is indeed a boxing anime and it tries to ground itself within the realms of reality, but the anime twist creeps up occasionally, delivering some highly entertaining and exaggerated exchanges.  I thought the character designs where creative and done well enough. There is a slight amount of reused cels during combat, however this should be expected since it is boxing. There’s only so many ways one can move.

Fighting Spirit clearly isn’t without its flaws though. I have often compared this show to Baki the Grappler, which is a mixed martial arts anime. I lean heavily in favor of Fighting Spirit having a better all around story, yet I think Baki handles its character roster a lot better in regards to fighting. Fighting Spirit mainly follows the in-ring struggles of Ippo: all of his strategies, his coaching, and his courage during brutal beatings. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast don’t even get this. The guys in his gym; their battles are quickly brushed upon and Ippo’s rivals along with future opponents aren’t really examined until they fight him. Their matches are clear sailing until they face Ippo too, while Ippo struggles against everyone he comes up against. I feel this is the anime’s weakest storytelling point, and Baki the Grappler clearly excels here as you get extremely detailed fight sequences with every character in that anime.  In all fairness, at least one character in Fighting Spirit gets his own solo tale before this season ends, but I always wanted to see the others struggle as much as Ippo.

Overall, Fighting Spirit is still an awesome anime that I’m glad to keep around. The action is great, animation is very good, and I love this group of characters. The English dub which I enjoy a lot is well done, and I love the opening theme Inner Light by Shining Lemon the best; it’s very energetic and hard-hitting like the battles. I highly recommend this title to anyone whom loves action anime.

 

And it all ends here… For now.

Transformers: Regeneration One Volume 4

Price $15.83

(3.5/5)

Pros: Interesting enough storytelling elements, pretty good ending

Cons: Not enough action and probably too wordy for some

21 years have passed since the death of Unicron, the defeat of the Decepticons, and then the unification between Autobot and Decepticon. While there is peace on the planet Cybertron, remnants of the Decepticon force are far from happy about this and Soundwave is determined to begin the war again with small terrorist attacks. Optimus Prime on the other hand, is turning a blind eye to these things hoping to maintain the truce. The powder keg is close to exploding and it appears nothing can be done about it. -Original Summary

 

Transformers Regeneration One Vol. 4

Under the new leadership of Rodimus Prime and the combined efforts of Grimlock and his Dinobots; the Autobots were able to repel the vicious duo Decepticon assault against them led by Bludgeon and Soundwave. Although the war against the Decepticons is finally over the Autobots must prepare for a new threat that may end all. -summary

Transformers Regeneration One Vol. 4 is the final chapter of this series that finally puts an end to the original G1 series that was left unfinished under Marvel Comics. This series was meant to replace Generation 2 as the real sequel due to the continuation of G2 concerning The Liege Maximo being axed and left unfinished in the early 90’s. Regeneration One provides an ending that will probably satisfy most fans, but don’t come into this expecting an all out, simple shoot out to the finish, as Simon Furman attempts to go all psycho-babble which seems to be the norm these days in so many works.

The plot picks up at the very end of the Autobot and Decepticon war with the Autobots treating their wounded and rounding up surviving Decepticons as prisoners. Rodimus Prime recently took a trip into the time stream and learned there are various threats to the grand plan created by their god Primus, along with their overall survival. He quickly identifies two of the serious threats as rogue Decepticon leader from the future Galvatron, and another Cybertronian senator by the name of Jihaxius. The former is on the loose as they have already battled him, and now they must prepare for the latter whom finally arrives to Cybertron with a deadly plan of his own. The cards begin to fall in place, yet Rodimus knows there’s still more to this puzzle.

Furman reaches into corners of the TF universe that had been explored in some way before and either adds a different twist or simply expands on it; the result is a pretty suspense-filled story that eventually ties up all loose ends. I tossed out there earlier the inclusion of Furman’s psycho-babble, however it really isn’t as heavy handed as it may sound.  For the most part, I enjoyed how the darker entity concerning the Creation Matrix was handled in explaining all events leading up to this point. It indeed felt epic and at the end of the day it was a proper send off for a series with so much promise. At the same time though, it really felt lacking in some areas. This final chapter clearly wasn’t as action-packed as I would have preferred it. Let us be honest here, this is The Transformers, and it involves a war between two robotic armies trying to kill each other and it simply wasn’t done very well. The final action-filled battles were terribly underwhelming and they even felt rushed. It simply doesn’t compare to the all out battle found in Generation Two or any other epic  action filled battles pre-dating that story such as the Underbase Saga or The Unicron Conflict.

It also must be mentioned how fan oriented this series is; Regeneration One touches on very old topics such as the Underbase and its connection to Starscream. I just don’t feel it was properly explained here along with other things which may effect newer fans overall enjoyment. Older fans will more than likely embrace these early story elements, although they may find some of the action to be stale in comparison to other stories. I will also point out that character development is slightly better, and this may be the best I had seen Rodimus Prime used. He really felt like a leader whom was more sure of himself this time around, even going so far not to accept Optimus Prime’s observation fully or maybe not at all.

The artwork suffers a steady decline in a portion of the ending issues, but it’s on par with the rest of this series through out most of the book. There are some very fine character designs, and cool backgrounds capturing the devastation of combat. The sharp colors once again brings out the details in the artwork.

In the end, I really wanted to like this final chapter a lot more, but the lack of action plus how some things felt so rushed lowered my enjoyment quite a bit. It’s not wrong to demand more action from The Transformers because grand battles is what the series has always been about. Overall, I would say Regeneration One belongs in any Transformers fans collection, but newbies would probably do a lot better investing their time in the Transformers IDW collection series and from there working their way up to Dark Cybertron. I personally feel this is the best way to enjoy the Transformers franchise.

 

 

The Not-So Glorious History of the FMW Double Title:RULE THE ASYLUM

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: RULE THE ASYLUM

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See it at Amazon 

(3/5) decent

Pros: Tanaka vs. Ganosuke is BRUTAL; program has a sense of purpose

Cons: Two matches here are repeats from previous FMW compilations; match lineup loses momentum down the stretch

Chronicling the two-year history of FMW’s prestigious double title championship which was made up of the Independent Heavyweight World Title and the Brass Knuckles Championship, Rule the Asylum (released on video in 2001) really should have been one of the best entries in TokyoPop’s series of DVDs featuring Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. Other volumes in this series were more or less a hodgepodge of matches that varied in quality from being mind-blowing to absolute garbage, but here was a disc that had only title matches on it and featured the top names in the promotion. Sad then that even this DVD has problems that keep it from rising above mediocrity: though all the matches on the main program are seen in their entirety (my biggest, most all-encompassing complaint about the FMW series overall was the amount of truncation that was done on many if not most matches), two of the five have been included on previous TokyoPop DVDs, prompting a WTF response. When there are relatively few entries in this series in the first place (the series ended after volume 14) and there are literally hundreds of FMW shows to draw material from, why would there be any recycled footage present on these US releases?

hayabusa with belts
Hayabusa displaying the two belts of the FMW Double Title.

Though FMW was known as a “garbage wrestling” promotion due to the prevalence of stipulation matches and extreme violence (at least in the early days of the promotion), by the time the double title championship was unified in 1996, the promotion was headed more in the direction of becoming more like the American promotion WWF, i.e. focusing on “entertainment” over brutality. Matches on Rule the Asylum therefore focus more on athleticism, though at least one contest here is much more graphic in terms of its level of bloodshed than I’d ever expect to see in the states. Commentating on the card is provided by the (yawn) duo of John Watanabe on play-by-play and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski providing color commentary. These two seem generally lackadaisical, even when Watanabe starts excitedly blurting out and repeating the names of moves he’s seen in an apparent attempt to win a cracker from the viewer. Announcing on these FMW programs was a problem since day one, and though I like the non-scripted, less jokey commentating provided by Lovranski and Watanabe better than what was heard on the first half dozen FMW discs, the pair simply doesn’t add much to the program. All in all, few of the FMW DVDs would be ones that anyone aside from hardcore Japanese wrestling fans would really need to check out: they pale in comparison to any of the programs released by the then-WWF or ECW promotions.

now that is impressive
Now that is impressive: Ultimo Dragon with a ridiculous amount of gold. Sheesh!

Here’s the rundown of matches featured on Rule the Asylum:

1. The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura (12.11.1996) – Independent heavyweight champ Kanemura takes on Brass Knux title holder Mike Awesome in this contest from the Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium that would unify the two belts and establish the double championship. I was a bit skeptical about this match from the get-go considering the language barriers between the American Awesome and Japanese wrestler Kanemura, and the contest does seem quite awkward at times. Complicating matters further is the fact that these two had very different styles of wrestling: Awesome relied on his power and agility, generally avoiding the most violent matches while Kanemura was more a brawler who reveled in excessive brutality. The fact that the first five minutes or so mainly deal with Awesome getting his foot caught up in the ropes so as to bring him down to the skill level of Kanemura due to the “injury” speaks volumes about the contest, and as a whole, it has a sputtering quality to it. When one guy is firmly in control, it’s ok: Awesome gets to show off his power, Kanemura demonstrates his more rough and gritty style. In the standoffish moments however, it’s clear these two don’t quite know what to do: witness several herky-jerk segments in which moves barely connect – the worst of which is when Awesome gingerly taps Kanemura’s head with a piece of broken table. C’mon Mike – this is FMW: had something like this happened during his ECW days, Awesome would’ve been booed out of the arena. I suppose the match is actually better than I would have thought, mainly due to the fact that Awesome sells the leg injury pretty well, but it’s plenty sketchy at times… Three stars.

kanemura fired up
A bloody Kanemura getting fired up during his battle with The Gladiator Mike Awesome.

2. The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) vs. Masato Tanaka (9.27.1997) – From the Kawasaki Stadium, these two powerful rivals square off in a match that was previously seen on The Enforcer compilation; full match rundown can be found in my review of that DVD. It’s an outstanding match for sure (I gave it four and a half stars the first time around), but I’m disappointed and frankly, flabbergasted that TokyoPop would re-use a match that’s already been seen in the FMW video series – even if they are trying to reveal the history of the double title.

tanaka v. awesome
…and this is why fans still remember matches between Tanaka and Awesome.

3. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Gannosuke (1.6.1998) – Tanaka defends the title against the absolutely brutal Gannosuke in this contest from the Korakuen Hall. After a standoffish start to the match, the two combatants wind up brawling through the crowd (cue a few table spots including one where Tanaka misses the table and lands lower back first on the floor OUCH), and when they finally get back to the ring, Gannosuke uses a broken broom handle to rip the hell out of Tanaka’s bicep. This gaping wound is pretty nasty, even compared with the types of things seen in the most gruesome FMW stipulation matches, and Tanaka proceeds to lose a rather excessive amount of blood throughout the rest of the contest. Gannosuke appears to almost be in Jerry Lawler mode here: doing as little as possible to win the match while obliterating and bloodying his opponent. This of course is a technique used to turn Gannosuke into even more of a villain, but his overall performance doesn’t speak well to his actual in-ring abilities and I would have expected more out of him. Irregardless, Tanaka’s gutsy performance makes this match memorable: even with all the punishment he takes, he’s still able to pull off many of his signature power moves. Down the stretch, a match that was pretty uninspired at times starts to get exciting, and in the end, I’d give it four stars.

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No handshakes in the double title match between Tanaka and Gannosuke – it’s ugly.

4. Mr. Gannosuke vs. Hayabusa (4.30.1998) – Another (surprisingly dull) recycled match; this one featured on TokyoPop’s Flying Assassin compilation: see that review for a full match description. Interesting to note that Lovranski and Watanabe seem to have recorded new commentary tracks for the pair of recycled matches seen on Rule the Asylum, which makes about as much sense as including them in the first place. I gave the match a generous three stars the first time around, but it’s forgettable and not worth watching for a second time.

gannosuke v. hayabusa
Gannosuke with Hayabusa locked up in a headscissor.

Hayabusa vs. Kodo Fuyuki (11.11.1998) – A classic hero (face) versus villain (heel) match from the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium, this match pits the barrel-chested wily veteran Fuyuki against the fan favorite Hayabusa. Another obvious clash of styles in this match: Hayabusa dazzles crowds with his technical ability and high-flying moves, while Fuyuki plays the quintessential bad guy, doing as little as possible to win while showing off gritty technique and letting loose with his trademark, high-pitched war cries. A fairly slow, methodical match, this more or less drags through its opening section before getting into some sort of rhythm around the halfway point. Fuyuki eventually lands a pretty gnarly brain buster on the floor against Hayabusa, who retaliates with his showy aerial moves. I almost got the idea here that Fuyuki just wasn’t going to sell Hayabusa’s moves like his typical opponent would: the more popular wrestler was going to have to really work to get the win here, not just land a couple somersault splashes. Towards the end of the contest, this becomes a botch fest, with both wrestlers missing moves and generally stumbling their way towards an unconvincing, lame-o finale: genuinely disappointing even if the announcers attempt to convince a viewer otherwise. Two and a half stars.

hayabusa v fuyuki
Hayabusa and Fuyuki in battle.

A final noticeable problem with this DVD is that its format makes it impossible to avoid spoilers in the matches featured: a viewer who reads over the match list here knows who is going to win each and every fight. Along with the fact that two matches here were carried over from other FMW DVDs, this makes Rule the Asylum much less enthralling than it really should have been. We’re told right off the bat that achieving the Double Title Championship was the ultimate goal of every wrestler in the promotion, but I’m not sure this hit-or-miss lineup of matches could actually convince a viewer of the title’s importance. As this program wears on, the caliber of matches here actually gets worse, and the retirement of the belts in 1998 doesn’t seem like an altogether bad idea. In the end, we’ve got another FMW DVD that ultimately does little to dispel the notion that FMW was at best, a second-tier Japanese wrestling promotion that never really could compete with either the outright insanity and violence of Big Japan Pro Wrestling or the spectacle of either New Japan or All Japan. Hardcore wrestling fanatics might want to check out this DVD, but those looking for honest quality in their wrestling entertainment would be wise to look elsewhere.

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disc deets
Decent but not great quality, full-frame DVD from TokyoPop includes a trailer gallery and selection of wrestler bios as well as two bonus double title matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kintaro Kanemura – Champ Tanaka faces off against the always game Kanemura in a rough technical match. Shown in highlighted form only with no commentary, this match features bad attitude galore from Kanemura who power slams Tanaka through a table from the ring apron, then proceeds to use the broken wood fragments and even the ring bell against the champ. At one point, Tanaka delivers a ridiculous lariat that whips Kanemura around like a rag doll, and the match culminates in an exchange of brutal forearms. A decent match overall. Three stars.

2. Hayabusa vs. Hisakatsu Oya – Heavily edited match (16 minutes down to three) with intermittent Japanese-language commentary in which champ Hayabusa faces off against the technically gifted Oya. After an initial grappling exchange, Hayabusa demonstrates his usual, dazzling array of high-flying moves, including a vaulting suicide dive over the corner turnbuckle that lands on Oya outside of the ring. Final back and forth battle of suplexes is kind of cool, but these highlights don’t convey much about the quality of the match. One and a half stars.

blood & guts
5/10 : Though this DVD as a whole is not as rigorous as other FMW programs, it gets plain nasty at times

smack talk
1/10 : Some rough language and vague threats

fap factor nope0/10 : Not even a single homely woman in spandex to be seen

whack attack
5/10 : Fairly straight-forward Japanese wrestling disc, though more worthwhile and consistent than some.

GI JOE
“Whoa Dan – you’re starting to sound like some of these marks on the internet…”  HEY, WAIT A MINUTE….

R.I.P. Michael “Mike Awesome” Alfonso

I’ve Met My Maker

Bella Single Serve Coffee Maker

 

See it at Amazon 

(4.5/5)

Pros: quickly  makes coffee, big or little cup, nice and hot, easy to use, re-usable filter

Cons: will burn out if you accidentally leave it on, no water amount indicator lines on the outside

I had a single person coffee maker for several years, one with a small coffee pot.  It was perfect for just me.  When the glass pot cracked and broke, it wasn’t worth buying a new pot.  So, I started researching new coffee makers.  I drink just one cup at a time, and my hubby doesn’t drink coffee, so I didn’t need some big maker.  I looked into a Keurig, but way too expensive.

When I found the Bella Single Cup Maker, I looked a little closer.  Found out it was perfect for me.  It even comes with a nice mug.  You can make a small cup or a big cup.  You can brew straight into a travel mug if you want, which is really nice.  Plus, it was inexpensive.

I love the fact that this Bella coffee maker comes in different colors.  I chose the purple, which is my favorite color.  The mug it comes with is a nice, deep smokey gray.

This maker is super easy to use.  There is a mesh filter inside where you put your ground coffee.  The only negative is that there are no water amount indicator lines on the outside.  So, you measure with a measuring cup or your mug.  There are lines on the inside, but they’re really difficult to see without getting light down into it.

Once you plug it in and turn on the power button, it’s brewing quickly.  The coffee comes out nice and hot, too.  I had concerns that it wouldn’t be hot enough, but that’s just not the case.  I like only piping hot coffee, and this maker nails it.

You’ll want to be sure to turn it off after it’s done brewing.  It will burn out if you leave it on too long several times.  This happened to my grandmother, who had the same maker.

Now, you can’t program this coffee maker to automatically start brewing at a certain time.  There’s one button, or switch rather, and that’s on/off.  But it makes coffee so quickly, that I don’t see a real need for programmable features.  You could put your ground coffee and water in the night before, then in the morning, stumble out to the kitchen and simply turn it on.  Even I can handle that at 5:30 am!

The filter is easy to clean out, and if you leave the lid open on the maker, it’ll dry out in no time.  The filter basket holder comes out, too, so you can wash that.  It’s easy to keep clean.

If you don’t want to use the big mug it comes with, and want a small mug, they  have a nifty feature for that.  The stand in which the mug rests on while brewing can be moved up to a higher position for smaller mugs.  This reduces splashing as it brews.  Genius!  It’s easy to move.  That stand is also easy to clean.

All in all, I love this Bella Single Cup Coffee Maker.  I couldn’t be happier unless they included a water level window on the outside.  Then, I could give it a 5 star rating.

I’ve met my maker and I’m really happy with it.

An Epic Portrait of American Royalty: THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY

THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY on PBS

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See it at PBS Website 

(4/5) cool

Pros: Well-researched; strong presentation; very educational

Cons: Undeniably “dry” when compared to most modern documentaries

The latest in a string of epic documentaries produced for public television (i.e. PBS) by filmmaker Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is a seven-part, roughly fourteen-hour series premiering in September 2014 that chronicles the history of one of America’s most important political dynasties from a period in the mid-1800s until Eleanor Roosevelt’s death in 1962. Starting off by examining the roots of the family in New York State, The Roosevelts’ premiere episode, entitled “Get Action,”goes on to detail how Theodore Roosevelt rose to power in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. A viewer starts to realize through the program that Theodore’s rise to political prominence was rather unlikely: after suffering from physical limitations early on in life, Theodore eventually had to work through several tragedies that occurred early on in his political career. All the while the documentary tells the story of how Theodore began a life of adventure in the American west to get his wits back about him after the deaths of his first wife and mother on the same day in 1884, Burns also devotes time to explaining the early life of Theodore’s cousin Franklin Delano, who was born into a different branch of the family. “Get Action” finishes with Theodore taking over the presidency of the United States after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, a situation that would not only have a profound effect on the country but also on Theodore’s younger cousin who now saw proof that perseverance and hard work could pay off…

1914
Teddy (left) and FDR (right) in 1914.

Much like earlier Ken Burns documentaries, The Roosevelts relies on various sources and archival materials to tell its story. While the series does feature omniscient narration (provided by the always reliable Peter Coyote) and has the expected group of “talking head” historians who offer their two cents in analyzing the events taking place in the ongoing narrative, Burns and writer Geoffrey C. Ward often rely on actual first-hand accounts written by the subjects of the documentary themselves which are recited by a group of actors (including Paul Giamatti who portrays Theodore, Edward Herrmann who voices Franklin, and Meryl Streep as Eleanor). This technique goes a long way in making the production seem like it is, as advertised, an “intimate history:” the viewer often is told the story right from the horse’s mouth as it were, and the insight into various well-known and not-so well-known historical events is undeniably fascinating. This series certainly seems like a “peek behind the curtain” of a much-revered and admired family.

rough riders
In its explanation of Teddy’s action during the Spanish-American War, the series includes several detailed battle descriptions – fascinating stuff.

Along with these anecdotes, Burns also provides a wealth of archival images that speak to the amount of research and work that went into this production. Including both iconic, instantly recognizable images and ones taken from more private collections, these photographs are perhaps best in their ability to help establish the setting that this documentary is attempting to chronicle. This seems an important aspect of the production to me, since the period discussed in this series is one that few (if any) people would have first-hand knowledge about. Obviously, technology changed immensely from the time that Theodore Roosevelt was leading the so-called “Rough Riders” in Cuba to the period in which Pearl Harbor was bombed thus entering the United States into the Second World War, and I would anticipate that the format of the series may change slightly as it progresses to include more vintage film elements over static images. Either way, Burns does include contemporary scenes from time to time to make this production a bit more digestible to modern audiences used to a more flashy production.

FDR
FDR – a voice of reason during a period of national crisis

That last statement is indicative of one criticism I might have about this documentary. By 2014, after having worked on numerous productions of this nature, Burns’ documentary formula is pretty well-established and seems bland compared to the more vibrant, modern documentary style. In many ways, The Roosevelts could be seen as a rather “dry,” old-fashioned documentary: it’s precisely the type of no-nonsense production that I recall having to watch in school on many occasions (this same basic format was used for Burns’ Civil War for instance). Additionally, even if Burns’ selection of music is perfectly acceptable given the subject matter he’s covering, the format of having an actor reading journal entries over distant, dramatic music almost becomes cheesy in context of modern film making and/or documentary technique. To put it simply, this type of thing would be likely to put some younger viewers and maybe even older audiences to sleep: the production as a whole seems almost lackadaisical in terms of its mood and forward momentum.

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Eleanor, who redefined the role of the “First Lady.”

It’s a good thing then that the amount and quality of information presented in this film is truly outstanding. While I’m no presidential scholar, I certainly have at least a passing familiarity with various aspects of American history, and I found that this documentary provided a ton of information that I hadn’t been aware of or had forgotten over time. There’s also some interesting food-for-thought provided in the form of inevitable comparisons that could be made between the times when Theodore and FDR were president (and the era between their two presidencies) and the modern age. I found several quotes and analysis by the historians to be especially fascinating in a modern context: Theodore’s declaration to “never let party zeal obscure [his] sense of right and decency” is a statement that I would scoff at coming from the mouths of one of today’s politicians. In an era where congressional approval ratings are in the single digits and politicians (at best) seem too caught up in personal gain and cronyism, it seems outrageous that genuine altruists of the Roosevelt variety would be elected to office – or not be corrupted beyond recognition if they did.

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Teddy Roosevelt: Big game hunter, warmonger, and Imperialist?

As much as the historians interviewed in the program to an extent do seem to be offering up near-endless praise to the subjects of the documentary, they aren’t afraid to point out flaws in the Roosevelts either. A significant amount of time is paid in the first episode to the notion that Theodore may not only have been somewhat mentally unstable, but also a bit of a warmonger who “reveled in gore.” Additionally, the observation that Teddy was an outright Imperialist isn’t necessarily a flattering one, yet may explain a few things about American foreign policy that are still relevant today. The film also doesn’t ignore the fact that Eleanor and Franklin were (gulp!) related – or shy away from discussing FDR’s extramarital activities. In the end, though the series sometimes seems pretty warm and fuzzy, it appears to present an accurate and fairly objective portrait.

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Even if it’s not the most flashy thing I’ve ever seen, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is quite riveting and compelling for what it is, and would be about a must for those seriously interested in the American presidency or the country’s history in general. The series as a whole is exceedingly well put-together – the editing of Paul Barnes is extraordinary in its ability to juggle the stories of three different family members (Teddy, FDR, and Eleanor) at any given time, and the program presents a veritable smorgasbord of facts and archival material. As good as the early episodes have been, I can only imagine the series would get better as it goes along and covers seemingly more significant (and more well-known) segments in the lives of its subjects. One of Ken Burns’ most admirable talents as a documentarian is that he makes comprehensive and indeed almost exhaustive analyses of historical subjects tolerable for mainstream audiences, and I’d have to say that he’s come up with another winner here. It might not impress younger viewers, but this sober and all-encompassing series is undoubtedly excellent.

In Space No One Can Hear You Gag.

The Adventures Of Pluto Nash

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$28.99 At Amazon 

(0/5)

Pros: Pros? That’s funny. There aren’t any!

Cons: Where to begin.

(Note: This review originally appeared in slightly different form on Epinions.com)

Greetings people.

As most of you are aware, I, David Manning, have been out of work for more than a year now. Since Sony gave me the ax and spread that story about how I wasn’t real I’ve been unable to find steady work. None of the major publications would hire me, which is their loss. I mean: they need somebody to give stuff a chance certain people who scream about quality won’t. They’re fine ones to talk about quality! The films I’m referring to are masterpieces. Hudson Hawk, that one was a damn classic. And Battlefield Earth. It’s a crime against humanity that the Academy overlooked John Travolta for an Oscar for that one. Oh, and that one from 12 years ago called Scooby-Doo that all my boneheaded counterparts trashed. What nerve! Scooby-Doo was a wonderfully original movie full of terrific jokes, endearing pop culture references (loved the Sugar Ray cameo) and humor on the level of Mark Twain (How could you not find the farting contest between Shaggy and Scooby hilarious?).

Fortunately the Warner Brothers execs were smart when they released The Adventures Of Pluto Nash in that they didn’t let in any of the critics so that they could go off and spread fabrications about this piece of art. Then it would have been the viewing public’s loss (and Warner Bros’ as well, since they spent $90 million on this baby). Thus I was the only critic they allowed in. So I’m here to tell you what you should have already figured out. The Adventures Of Pluto Nash is a masterpiece. The fact that it did not take home some Academy Awards was one snub too many (Battleship’s omission was bad enough) and I am now boycotting them!

Anyway, in this outer-space comedy we have Eddie Murphy in the title role as a former smuggler turned nightclub owner. Yes, I know that he previously played a similar role in the way underrated early 90s flick Harlem Nights. But hey, if that performance was good, what’s wrong with having him repeat it. Most of you have forgotten it you claim? Well it’s a shame that you did, even though you apparently for some reason think it is best forgotten, along with his roles in Vampire In Brooklyn and Beverly Hills Cop III. Randy Quaid plays his robot bodyguard named Bruno. Bruno truly is robotic. Some people may call him annoying. Don’t listen to them. Bruno is quite hilarious. In fact, he has one of the best scenes in the movie where he falls in love with a French female robot. I have never seen a more touching scene in my life. Be sure to bring plenty of tissue.

Rosario Dawson plays Dina, a nightclub singer who comes to Pluto’s nightclub on the moon seeking work. Pluto hires her on as a waitress. Before long however, a group of goons show up at the Pluto club. They work for Rex Crater, a local developer who wants to buy the moon and turn it into a casino. Pluto refuses to sell out and so Crater resorts to that time honored technique of shakedown to get what he wants. Before long, Pluto Dina and Bruno are on the run from Crater and his men.

What make this movie so great are the hilarious jokes. There is a scene where Pluto and Dina go to get cloned (yes cloning is legal on the moon in 2080) and wind up engaging in a series of extremely funny rear-end jokes. In fact, if I were to drink a beer for every time an a** joke gets made in this movie; I would find myself as drunk as the bozos who will doubtlessly pan this movie. There has to be some explanation for why they don’t recognize cinematic art when they see it.

There are also numerous moon references throughout the movie. This is most notable in the use of moon songs, the same way Angel songs were used in Charlie’s Angels. You hear songs like a hip-hop Blue Moon, an R&B remake of Dancing In The Moonlight and Joe Pantoliano (AKA Ralphie of The Sopranos) singing Fly Me To The Moon. No Moondance or Bad Moon Rising though.

Oh yes, there is also a talking car, much like the cabs in Total Recall. Although this car has the voice of John Cleese. Forget A Fish Called Wanda or any of the Python movies, this performance is the one that will stand above all others when Cleese’s career is remembered in years to come. Lines like “I refuse to let you steal me” and “That is drivel” will go down in movie quote history along with “Wink wink nudge nudge”.

So I think that this should cap my opinion quite well. The Adventures Of Pluto Nash is a cinematic treasure that should appeal to all people, much like Shrek or Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. I urge all of you people who foolishly missed this masterpiece when it was in theaters to give it a chance on DVD, Blue-Ray or streaming. Watch it along with that other summer classic known as Scooby-Doo and you will have a blast.

See you all soon
David Manning.

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Babies, Babies, Babies

You and Me, Baby

 

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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: attractive, sure to appeal to parents and siblings alike, a nice gift basket addition for baby shower

Cons: pricey

Lynn Reiser and Penny Gentieu have teamed to produce a lovely work, You and Me, Baby, suitable for gifting young parents, older siblings and the baby him or herself.

Magnificent prints of charismatic and engaging babies as well as their parents representing diverse cultures are used to generate an appealing picture book depicting outsized, full page, graphic of a toddler and parent as they interact with smiles, loving glances and the delight of enjoyment of babyhood generally found concerning parents and their children.

Hey, baby! Look at you, looking at me, begins the text. Unpretentious words appropriate for reading aloud by parent from earliest days in their child’s life. The first pair depicted are a mom and her little one as they act together while sitting on the floor together. The following duo shows a young dad and his child, Wow, baby! Look at you, waving at me. The fun of entertaining play and warmth of affection are obvious as baby responds to dad’s or mom’s care.

Illustrations showing beaming, happy babies, most showing a brand new tooth or two, resonate with the enormity of responsibility, love and sentiment parents and children are developing as they together inaugurate the life journey upon which they find themselves.

Now, baby! Look at me, smiling at you, smiling at me, feeding you, portrays a healthy, happy baby first having her mom offer a spoonful of something tasty and then a shot of mom and baby sharing a cuddle. Continuing the loving interaction between parent and child we read, Ooooh, baby! Look at you, splashing me, splashing you revealing an infant clearly relishing the daily bath; a time most parents treasure as their baby splashes and plays.

Clincal professor of psychiatry at Yale University, Lynn Reiser, author of the work lives in Hamden, Ct, while photographer Penny Gentieu maintains a studio in New York.

 Oh, baby! Look at you, looking at me brings a towel draped baby just from her bath laughing, enjoying mom’s kisses to the sole of her foot while smiling at her mom.

Moms and Dad, varied ethnic and racial backgrounds and babies are shown to perfection in this lovely picture book. Each snapshot features an ordinary contact between parent and baby, including smiling, feeding, hugging, playing peek-a-boo; the common repertoire parents and babies have enjoyed for generations. Large full page close-ups are filled with expressions and actions often seen between parents and children.

While I find the work a bit pricey,  I do like the minimal, repetitive text. Large engaging photos of children appearing as aged few months to about 12 months clearly illustrate the text while helping to promote language development for reader and the babies and children to whom they are reading.

I was sent an arc for review. I found You and Me, Baby to be a large, well-made picture book and am happy to recommend You and Me, Baby as a baby shower possibility for young parents welcoming their first child, as well as a gift possibility for older siblings who are also awaiting the birth of the baby who will become part of their lives as well as that of the parents.

Product Details include

Age Range: a read to work for the 2 – 4 year olds, and a read with help for the 4 – 7s.

Hardcover: 40 pages

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 10, 2006)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 037583401X

ISBN-13: 978-0375834011

Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 8.3 x 0.4 inches

Available on Amazon and other online sites, about $14.50

Why…Just Why? ALASKA MONSTERS

ALASKA MONSTERS

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Website at Destination America 

(0/5) bogus

Pros: May amuse some people, though that may be an indication that there’s no longer any hope left for humanity

Cons: Completely…utterly…hopelessly unnecessary, phonier than a three dollar bill, and dumber than five boxes of rocks

Another week; another positively ludicrous phony monster hunt program. Alaska Monsters is the Destination America channel’s latest entry in the crypto-reality genre, following the exploits of a monster hunting crew located in the “last frontier” of the forty-ninth state. As has come to be the norm, we have the usual gang of characters: team leader “Little Bear,” a trap engineer named Todd, tech specialist Levi, a fellow named Rhett who’s billed as the “rookie,” a trapper named “Face” who’s the obvious “wild card” of the group and finally, a “researcher” who goes by the name of – get ready for it – “Crusty.” This gang, known as the “Midnight Sons” has been tracking creatures in Alaska since 2008 (at least if you believe anything this show is trying to tell you), and in the first episode of the reality show revolving around them, go in search of Alaska’s Bigfoot-like creature that’s known locally as the “Wild Man.”

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On the first episode of Alaska Monsters, the team searches for “security expert” Huckleberry. Wait…that ain’t right…

The program follows the now very well-established monster hunt formula to a ‘T’: it starts with the initial night “recon” mission, involves a few eyewitness accounts (one of whom declares he was “out here gettin’ wood with my dog…” sounds like a personal problem), and sputters towards a final “midnight hunt” that puts the team directly in the path of an imaginary beast created solely through dubbed-in sound effects and blank expressions of fear from the actors…er…team members. Alaska Monsters seems a bit more modern in terms of the gear used during the investigations featured on it: in this first episode, the team not only utilizes night vision and FLIR infrared technology, but also a small drone with a camera mounted on it to survey the nearby landscape. This allows the seemingly misplaced Levi character (who seems not at all at home alongside a group of people one would expect to see waiting in line at the local soup kitchen) a sense of purpose in the show. Rhett, on the other hand, has nary a thing to do throughout the program and I’m not even sure that he takes part in the final night investigation that mainly involves the team tramping around a saw mill with firearms at the ready. After some obviously scripted “suspense” (“Oh no! A production assistant is shaking this blind I’m sitting in!”) and plenty of dubious acting on the part of the cast, the team walks away without a single solitary piece of evidence relating to the creature they’ve been pursuing. The show (like every episode of Mountain Monsters) ends with the crew making vague insinuations and wisecracks about the existence of the creature in an attempt to convince a viewer that he hasn’t just witnessed a load of complete bullshit.

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This poorly concocted, “scary” scene stands as the premiere episode’s climax.

It really is astonishing to me that somewhere, some network executive is giving each and every one of these absolutely ridiculous and devastatingly pointless monster programs the green light – and actually spending some money on their production. The ultimate sad fact about shows like this one, Monsters Underground, Swamp Monsters and Mountain Monsters (which lost all credibility or, more importantly, sense of fun it once had during a painful to behold second season) is that they make shows like Destination Truth and even Finding Bigfoot look not only like top-notch entertainment but actually, undeniably credible. Let’s not forget that Destination Truth’s host Josh Gates wasn’t at all afraid to admit that he found no evidence of the at best rare and more probably completely imaginary creatures he was seeking and Finding Bigfoot still has not one solid bit of evidence after five full seasons. The notion of a monster hunt program that doesn’t instantaneously come up with a creature seems almost preposterous in context of this new breed of monster hunt programs exemplified by any of the Mountain Monsters clones that not only invents fictitious and frequently outlandish beasts, but then tries extremely hard through glaringly phony video evidence, sketchy eyewitness reports, and falsified, scripted scenarios to convince the audience of their actual flesh and blood existence. I’m kind of scared to see what happens on the next season of Finding Bigfoot: will that show even continue when it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that there’s still nothing on the hill?

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After an overload of absurdly similar and increasingly worthless programs, I would hope that most people would recognize the fact that very few of these monster-related shows are even making any attempt to be authentic in their presentation of content. Hence, it’s impossible for any savvy viewer to take these shows as anything except entertainment – they clearly are not documentaries. That said, it’s surprising how lousy most of them are in the entertainment department, and I think most of that is directly related to the fact that there is absolutely no originality to these shows. Alaska Monsters is a carbon copy of Mountain Monsters, a fact which is best exhibited by examining the characters. Trap builder Todd (much in the way his counterpart Willy does in Mountain Monsters) sets about building the most outrageously elaborate and positively impractical traps one could possibly imagine. In order to catch a Bigfoot-like creature, Todd constructs a “cylinder snare trap” – basically a huge tube with a system in place to close metal wire around a creature trapped inside of it. Why any beast would actually go inside this contraption in the first place is never explained (do these “expert trackers” not realize that their human stench would be hanging over this device like a fog?), and it’s no surprise when something goes wrong with the mechanics of the device and it’s not actually unusable.

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ACTING!

Additionally, we have smarmy narration provided by the appropriately named “Crusty,” a guy who seems vaguely unlikable and sleazy (or maybe it’s just that I can’t see the fashion value of the animal claw he wears in his thick, bushy beard) and “Face,” the obligatory “wild card” character who talks in a raspy, cartoonish voice and achieves moments of enlightenment when discussing wild man “doo doo” and imitating Fred Flintstone. I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up. The characters here seem way too “hammy” and almost make Vincent Price performances from the 1970s look restrained in comparison. All in all, there’s simply no way one could take anything in Alaska Monsters seriously – not when “Little Bear,” sporting an outfit that makes him look like a complete d-bag, starts mystically playing a pitch pipe around a campfire and discusses his tendency to “burn sage.” Seriously, where’s Bobo and Ranae when you need them?

little bear
So…”Little Bear” (in center) is wearing ass-less chaps, some sort of fur stole, a cowboy hat with the face of a small weasel on it, a fistful of gold rings, and a big, blinging medallion shaped like either a grizzly bear or a domestic hog. And we’re supposed to take this show at all seriously.

I’ve gotten to the point where there’s no way to even describe how atrocious shows like Alaska Monsters really are: this fails horribly as a monster-related program due to not having one iota of credibility, but even as the trashy, clinically dumb piece of populist entertainment that it is, it’s a complete waste, way too similar to other monster hunt shows that any viewer who watches this program probably would be familiar with. The producers don’t seem to be aware of the fact that they’re running this genre of television into the ground through pure, unadulterated, unchecked overkill, and I sincerely hope that someone behind the scenes is making hay while the sun shines, because the genre of the crypto-reality show is very quickly outlasting its relevance and has already overstayed its welcome. Programs like Alaska Monsters not only seem entirely capable of ruining anyone viewer’s interest in the subject of cryptozoology, but make me long for a program where a mysterious creature isn’t instantly located by a group of morons whose idea of “tracking” a creature is whooping, hollering, screaming, and careening through the forest while explaining each and every obvious move they’re making to an audience who is well aware of the absurdity of what they’re watching. I also don’t need any scenes of hobo-looking fellas giving each other a brofist each time they make a smart-ass, scripted remark about a fantasy creature. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m actually looking forward to the new season of Finding Bigfoot just to provide some sort of balance to a genre that’s well out of control at this point – better prepare the lifeboats just in case though…

Title Says It All – The Worst of the FMW Video Series: WAR OF ATTRITION

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: WAR OF ATTRITION

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See it at Amazon 

(1/5) ugh

Pros: The one match shown in its entirety is pretty great

Cons: Heavy truncation of matches that seem very gimmicky; way too much (confounding) storyline material

Opening with a recap of the tenth anniversary show for Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (which was released on video as The Judgment), War of Attrition is the aptly-named twelfth volume in TokyoPop Home Video’s FMW series. While some programs in the series provided “best of FMW” style compilations and others (like the aforementioned Judgment) featured entire individual events, War of Attrition exists solely as a “clean up” (or filler if you like) program in which a hodgepodge of matches is screened for the viewer: its sole reason for existence is to tie The Judgment to the next major FMW card, entitled “Backdraft” that occurred roughly six months later in May of the year 2000. As such, Attrition mostly focuses on the soap opera aspects of pro wrestling, following various storylines that existed in FMW circa late 1999 and early 2000. Though the matches here do feature many of the top talents in the promotion, this disc as a whole is not something that I’d probably be all that enthused about recommending, even to fans of Japanese wrestling.

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Long before the WWE, FMW proclaimed itself as “entertainment.”

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a sort of hardcore or “garbage” promotion – most of the traditional rules of the squared circle were relaxed to the point of almost being nonexistent, and FMW matches frequently involved use of weapons or outrageous stipulations. FMW pioneered many so-called “death matches” including ones involving electrified barbed wire, exploding land mines, and more and this style of hardcore or “extreme” wrestling was eventually borrowed by various other promotions, and perhaps used most effectively in the United States by Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling. By 1999, FMW had entered into a sort of talent swap program with ECW in which American wrestlers would appear in Japan and Japanese performers would occasionally make tours of the states. Around this same time, FMW also was in the process of becoming more “entertainment-oriented:” instead of focusing on rough and often bloody hardcore action and stipulation matches, the promotion was attempting to become more similar to the mainstream American promotions WWF and WCW, a move that in my opinion was rather questionable.

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One probably wasn’t going to see this kind of match in FMW circa 1999, which is kind of a shame really.

Nevertheless, drama seemed to take precedence over wrestling by 2000 and to that end, numerous feuds and storyline arcs were going on during this time period, with the main one revolved around a struggle for power in the organization between H (the wrestler formerly known as Hayabusa) and Masato Tanaka. Both these extremely talented performers had aspirations to be the best, most well-known superstar in FMW – and had the credentials to back up their arguments. By 2000, Tanaka had not only become a star in Japan, but also had a run as ECW’s Heavyweight Champion after a series of ridiculously hard-hitting battles with Mike Awesome, while H was easily the most popular figure in FMW. A clash between these two had been brewing for years and War of Attrition’s main goal seems to be to set the table for the inevitable showdown which would occur at the “Backdraft” event.

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Hayabusa and Tanaka during happier times. By 2000, their feud was the biggest in the promotion.

Providing commentary throughout the program is the usual team of John Watanabe and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski who are tolerable but nothing more. Neither of these announcers really take the program to the next level, and neither are as compelling to listen to as guys like Jim Ross, Joey Styles, or (God forbid) Gorilla Monsoon. Adding to the problems on War of Attrition is the fact that virtually none of the ten matches included here is seen in its entirety. Clipping these matches down to shreds of “highlight material” ruins the flow of the action – as a whole, this plays more like an episode of SportsCenter than a honest wrestling tape. For my money, the truncation of many if not most matches was the biggest problem with TokyoPop’s FMW series: I was willing to look past individually sloppy wrestling to an extent, but the heavy editing on these DVDs makes watching them borderline on being absolutely pointless. War of Attrition is probably the worst volume of the FMW video series in this regard.

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Sloppy wrestling is sloppy.

Here’s the “matches” included on the program.

1. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Axl Rotten (12.11.1999) – One of the most rough and tumble wrestlers in FMW takes on Rotten, who was known as one of the most violent performers in ECW mainly due to his notorious battles with his “brother” Ian. As expected, this match gets ugly, with the use of a fork to carve open the head of Kanemura, both men being slammed into and through piles of chairs, and a pretty crazy senton bomb from the top of a ladder which puts Rotten through a table. What’s more shocking is the handful of technical moves in the match: I never thought I’d see Rotten pulling off a superplex in this match, but it does indeed happen. While the match seemed decent, I can’t give this collection of highlights any higher than a two star rating.

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From left, Balls Mahoney, Masato Tanaka, Axl Rotten.

2. Masato Tanaka vs. Balls Mahoney (12.11.1999) – Another match featuring an FMW standout taking on an ECW star. This match is a bit more technically-based than the previous one – Mahoney actually was fairly capable as a technician, though he usually adopted the style of a brawler. Both he and Tanaka take some pretty sick chair shots in the contest, which sees Axl Rotten join Mahoney at ringside to offer assistance. Lots of rough action, though again, heavy editing ruins the match. Two stars.

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Tajiri, one of the more “eccentric” performers in ECW.

3. Kintaro Kanemura, Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. Balls Mahoney, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Super Crazy, and Axl Rotten (12.12.1999) – About as wild a group of wrestlers as one could get in one match, this out-of-control 8-man tag match sees the fight taken all over the arena and only intermittently being fought one-on-one in the center of the ring. The best moves here are (unsurprisingly) pulled off by ECW combatants Tajiri and Super Crazy – these two perform simultaneous, dual somersault presses flipping over the top ropes at one point and Tajiri also locks up his famous Tarantula submission. Very difficult to keep tabs on what’s happening during the match in these highlights; though I suspect the contest was pretty amazing to see, it pretty much stinks when edited down to smithereens. One and a half stars.

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The infamous “Scramble Fire Death Match” in which Kanemura was powerbombed into a pool of burning gasoline by Jado, resulting in third-degree burns on 75% of his back.

4. H and Mr. Gannosuke vs. Masato Tanaka and Tetsuhiro Kuroda (12.12.1999) – WEW Tag Team Title match that’s also a key moment in the feud between Tanaka and H. During the contest, a pumped-up Tanaka seems to be showing off his improved technique and raw power since this match occurred just after his first tour of duty in ECW. There’s some decent scientific wrestling here as Tanaka works over Gannosuke’s legs and arms, eventually unloading a wicked dragon screw that’s dazzling to say the least. Once H (finally) gets into the match, he’s like a house on fire for a few minutes, nailing Tanaka with a devastating fisherman bomb that shows Tanaka’s ability to absorb tremendous punishment. It’s Kuroda being abused late in the going, though Tanaka eventually empties the tank on his opponents by running through his repertoire of power moves. A really exciting match – but why wouldn’t the producers of the DVD just show the whole damn thing? Three stars.

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I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, but it looks like Hido (left), Fuyuki (middle), and Kanemura (right) are abusing and/or molesting Kuroda (legs spread???).

5. H, Mr. Gannosuke, Hisakatsu Oya, and Ricky Fuji vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Kyoko Inoue, Balls Mahoney, and Pitbull #1 (1.5.2000) – Eight person tag team match – labeled as such since female wrestler Inoue participates in this match on the ECW Japan team of Fuyuki, who previously had been “kicked out” of FMW but nonetheless was written back into the scr…I mean found a loophole to re-enter the promotion. This highlighted match begins with Fuji attempting to sing “Sexy Boy,” a.k.a. the entrance music of WWE star Shawn Michaels, in mangled Engrish. Cover your ears is all I have to say. Once the match gets going, it’s perhaps most notable for being one of the few times that H (now clearly established in the storyline as FMW’s chosen messiah) bleeds like a faucet. He’s absolutely covered in blood right off the bat after being attacked with (you guessed it!) a fork. Other than that, the match seems very gimmicky, with quick tags and decent pace, but not much in the way of genuine excitement. Again, the match is heavily truncated, making it difficult to really gauge its true quality. Two stars.

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Slapping contest between Kuroda (left) and Tanaka.

6. Masato Tanaka vs. Tetsuhiro Kuroda (1.5.2000) – Former tag team partners square off for the WEW Heavyweight Title. Though he’s a solid technician, Kuroda’s never much impressed me as a compelling performer. That said, he really ups his game here, showing his ability as a counter-wrestler. Both competitors attempt to “one-up” one another with a dazzling array of maneuvers; this is easily the most exciting and jaw-dropping match on the DVD, helped by the fact that it’s the only match shown in its entirety. After battling in the stands, Kuroda and Tanaka exchange big-time power moves in the center of the ring. Very tough, back and forth action with a truckload of near pinfalls; the ending of the match is a bit surprising (or maybe not). Either way, the highlight of the disc for me. Four stars.

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Some sort of spike being driven into the head of Kodo Fuyuki by Mr. Gannosuke.

7. Kodo Fuyuki and Kyoko Inoue vs. H and Mr. Gannosuke (2.25.2000) – Another gimmicky match for the WEW Tag Team Titles; remember, Inoue is a woman. She is pretty much pulverized early on by H and Gannosuke, but even when Fuyuki enters the match, his gingerly movements don’t do anything to improve the contest. Seriously – Fuyuki looks awful during this match and one has to wonder how in the world he was even being booked at this point. His story lines stank and he simply couldn’t pull it off in the ring. A thoroughly inconsequential match, with a dumb ending. Remember when actor David Arquette won the WCW Heavyweight Title? Like that, this is total soap opera. One star.

Fuyuki vs. Kuroda
Fuyuki and Kuroda battling it out.

8. Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kodo Fuyuki (3.27.2000) – For the WEW Heavyweight Title. Not so much a match (especially in this highlighted form) as an excuse to have a locker room clearing brawl, with virtually every wrestler in the promotion entering the ring at some point, thus nullifying the match. To give you some idea about the relative quality, Tracy Smothers gets involved. Oh my. Absolutely worthless, and doesn’t settle a thing. One star.

smothers
Tracy Smothers – the man who was once a respected wrestler was a complete joke by 2000.

9. Masato Tanaka and Balls Mahoney vs. H and Mr. Gannosuke (4.11.2000) – Fire thunder driver from top rope puts H out of action immediately in the match; he’s carted backstage, leaving Gannosuke to fight for himself. At least until (groan!) Kodo Fuyuki enters himself in the contest to fight Tanaka. Lots of dirty tactics from Tanaka, who’s clearly become a heel (i.e. villain) at this point in his career: check out the moment when he chokes Gannosuke with a TV cable. Eventually, who should return in the match but Hayabusa – mask and all – who proceeds to deliver his patented aerial moves and trades finishers back and forth with Tanaka. Decent enough even with all the drama, but I would’ve liked to have seen the whole match. Three stars.

uncomfortable
Tanaka appears to be in an uncomfortable position versus Mr. Gannosuke…

10. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Gannosuke (4.25.2000) – Borderline squash match designed only to create more drama and tension between Tanaka, Gannosuke, and Hayabusa leading into the “Backdraft” event. Match is almost irrelevant: edited down to a mere two minutes or so, most of which consists of Gannosuke bleeding heavily and getting beaten up by Tanaka. Post-match confrontation between H (no mask) and Gannosuke is confusing, and indicates that even the writers behind the scenes were starting to lose touch with where they wanted this story arc to go. It completely loses me, and the perplexing script only makes War of Attrition as a whole more disappointing. One star for the match.

Even if I could argue that some of the previous FMW DVDs were messy, none approaches the level of ineptitude which seeps through War of Attrition. As mentioned, the storylines that we’re supposed to be following throughout this haphazard collection of matches is inexplicable, and since a viewer doesn’t even see a whole lot of straight-forward wrestling on the DVD in the first place, I’m left wondering what the point of this DVD really was. Viewed in the chronology of TokyoPop’s FMW series, I suppose War of Attrition would have some value since it does chronicle a period of time in the bigger history of the promotion. Unfortunately, most everyone involved at this point doesn’t seem to have so much as a clue what’s happening in the bigger picture – and that’s doubly true for the writers behind the scenes. Their storytelling is starting to get noticeably muddled, and that’s dangerous in the often black and white world of pro wrestling. After viewing this DVD, it’s not surprising at all that FMW as a promotion would fold less than two years following these matches: the company seems disjointed and mismanaged, and it really seems like the writers were clutching at straws in an attempt to maintain audience interest. There’s simply too much soap opera shenanigans and gimmicks here, and not enough wrestling. For all but the most ardent fan of Japanese wrestling, the frustrating, confusing, and generally pointless War of Attrition would best be avoided.

acting? wrestling?

disc deets
Full-frame DVD from Tokyo Pop includes the usual trailer collection and wrestler bios as well as two bonus matches:
1. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Flying Kid Ichihara (1.5.2000) – Pretty typical FMW singles match with some rough action, pitting an almost jovial-seeming Kanemura against the more technical wrestler Ichihara. Action spills outside the ring almost immediately in the match highlights shown here, with Ichihara being slammed into a pile of chairs and the two combatants brawling into the bleacher area. Japanese commentary only is provided for this match, which I’d rate as a two star bout: it’s not especially exciting.

2. Hisakatsu Oya and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. H and Mr. Ganosuke – For the WEW Tag Team Titles, this contest seems a bit more substantial but is still seen only in highlighted form. An exchange of submission holds early on eventually gives way to a lot of power moves later. Many near pinfalls and good tag team dynamics between the combatants; the match also demonstrates that no one in FMW apparently knows how to sell the Kuroda Crunch (where Kuroda drops his opponent’s neck across the top rope). A decent contest, but not at all surprising. Two and a half stars.

blood & guts
6/10 : A few matches include some rather excessive amounts of bloodletting; there are also a few fairly violent moments including forks slicing into human flesh. Pass the potatoes!

smack talk
5/10 : It’s all fairly tame until a promo scene in which FMW president Mr. Arai confronts a group of ECW wrestlers. Suddenly, the f-bomb quotient of the program goes through the roof.

fap factor no
0/10 : Inter-gender wrestling may interest some, but there’s not much here to get excited about.

whack attack
5/10 : Too much soap opera and story to be of interest to anyone but the most hardcore Japanese wrestling fan.

GI JOE
Drama! Tension! Men in Spandex! Thems is Fightin Words! –  “It wasn’t a good idea to bite my head off. It pissed me off. He’s gone too far.”

Hayabusa – the Falcon!

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