Finally Spider-Man actually done right.

The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]

$22.49 at Amazon

(5/5)

Pros: Very fluid animation and solid writing, good viewing for everyone

Cons: Some purist may not like the various changes

 

When high school teen Peter Parker attends a science exhibit, his life is soon forever changed. During a demonstration on radioactive rays, a spider accidentally absorbs some of the radiation. Parker is bitten by the spider and later learns he has obtained the spiders abilities. Now calling himself Spider-Man, Peter chooses to use his powers for the good of mankind by bringing criminals to justice. -summary

I have to admit that I was one of those individuals whom put this show off for years simply because I didn’t care for the wacky like character designs, also at the same time I never really cared for Spider-Man in animated form,  and I have that atrocious 90′s animated Spider-Man series to thank for that. I mean seriously, that take on Spider-Man and his universe put a nasty taste in my mouth. Recently I decided to go ahead and dive into this series hoping for good things, and it was indeed money and time well spent. The Spectacular Spider-Man is 26 episodes of solid storytelling and above average animation; as a fan of the character I can say this is Spider-Man finally done right.

It’s ironic that the visuals were originally the aspect of this series that put me off, but now they’re my first point of praise. I love the fluid animation going on here; everything looks amazing from Spider-Man’s graceful web-slinging to his superior agility during evasive action. There is very little to no reliance on re-used cels, with all movements being very well choreographed. The action segments are too much fun to watch, consisting of some over the top aerial chases and hand to hand. Spider-Man’s world is a place where the imagination can run wild, and the animators along with screen writers managed to do just that. The character designs grew on me quicker than I realized with some nice updates to many of the villains. The female characters are rather tame; they’re cute without being overly sexy except maybe Black Cat, there’s quite a bit of sex appeal with her. The BGM and voice acting further brings out the show’s style, with some very talented voice work delivered by Josh Keaton, whom clearly has Spider-Man down to a science; with the always cool Clancy Brown and Steve Blum sporting their goods as well.

Although I love the stylistic edge of this show, I have to praise the writing as the strongest point. I remember all of these storylines in their original form, and I love the modern twist to these old classics. Please ignore those purist out there that claim classics were ruined here for a newer audience because this is not the case. Peter Parker’s life is almost as interesting as Spider-Man’s; with him forced to deal with being an outcast along with his friends, plus hoping to see where his relationships are going to go with the Parker luck in full effect. Spider-Man also has one of, perhaps the most notorious rogues galleries in comics and each of his villains such as Dr. Octopus, Electro, and even Kraven are still just as great as in the comic with some nice makeovers. However, it’s Tombstone that received the best makeover being extremely OP despite being pretty tough in the comic anyway. I also must point out how newbie friendly this show is. The writing doesn’t demand that a new audience must be familiar in order to enjoy the characters; we’re given solid origins and reasons for the characters thinking. The series is so much fun to watch and I couldn’t wait for the next episode; I can’t think of one moment where I got the crave to see something else. If there’s only one issue I have with the writing, then it’s how Venom was handled at one point. It’s clear that he really hates Spider-Man but he wants Spider-Man only for himself, and he considers it unfair to drag anyone else into their feud, in which he does here. I felt that the episode was unbelievable in how it was wrapped up. Still, this is a small gripe only as a comic fan.

Clocking in at nearly 10 hours across 4 disk, The Spectacular Spider-Man is a great show to spend the weekend. The comedy doesn’t feel forced at all nor does it even slightly ruin the atmosphere. There’s just a perfect blend of entertainment that adults of all ages can enjoy. The language is profanity free and although there is plenty of action and even violence, it’s all very tame and doesn’t even begin to approach many of the more harsh DC animated films out there. Along with adults this series is great for the kids as well.  I can imagine some old school fans not appreciating some changes from the original source material; other than this there’s nothing to really complain about. The Blu-Ray looks and sounds very good, plus there’s a couple of extras. Highly recommended.

Fate Hiccups and Waits for the Door Selection

If I Stay by Gayle Forman – The Novel

If-I-Stay

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Well written, Mia’s self assessments, The Family relationships, Trust, Story

Cons: Intense, Openness about Young Adult sexual relationships, Debated topic won’t align with some beliefs

Fate can be unforgiving but occasionally it hiccups and creates a crack in the realm of opportunities. If two doors wait to be open, one to stay or one to go,  which would you choose?

Such was the case on snowy day when there was no school and no work and a family was out to enjoy the snow day. If I Stay is a passionate teen story about a high school senior who finds herself in that blink-of-an-eye crack offered by fate. It’s a life-affirming story about how life took a dramatic turn one winter day when it found Mia out with her parents and younger brother on their way to school to pick up her cello. A tragically unavoidable collision with another car kills her parents and separates her from her brother.

 

Gayle Forman’s book grips with a fast pace that is told over a period of 24 hours, the time that Mia’s body lay in ICU. While there her spirit explores the hospital’s waiting room and hallways, and in this state she vividly learns about her passions, friendships, parents, life and the young man she loves. In this space between death and life she reflects upon her life and ponders staying or going. She takes comfort in hearing her grandfather give her permission to go if she chooses.

 

While in limbo between life and death she engages in self-reflection alternating between memories from her life and observations within the hospital halls. We learn about Mia, her unusually wonderful parents, and her love for her little brother. From the moment Mia looked into her newly born baby brother’s eyes she was bonded. Her best friend Kim completely understands her — their relationship formed following a fist fight. She is a world-class-cellist in the making and has attended music summer camp for years and will probably be accepted into Julliard. She fell in love with Adam who is perfect for her and was enthusiastically accepted by her parents. Her life was enviably good.

How does this fill a book? How will this sufficiently provide for a movie?

While young her life has been filled with unusual richness. Mia’s 24 hour out-of-body experience becomes a time for reflection. She wonders where her parents are and why they’re not inviting her to join them in the spirit realm. She eavesdrops in the waiting room as the numbers of friends and family increases and discovers how serious her injuries are.  She has yet to learn that her parents and brother died in the collision.

Following a second surgery in the 24-hour period Mia reaches a point where she accepts that she will die. A variety of friends and family visit during this anguishing 24-hour period, but none are more powerful or dramatic than Kim and Adam.

My eyes are closed so I hear him before I see him. I hear the raspy, quick rushes of his lungs. He is panting like he just ran a marathon. Then I smell the sweat on him, a clean musky scent that I’d bottle and wear as perfume if I could. I open my eyes. Adam has closed his. But the lids are puffy and pink, so I know what he’s been doing. Is that why he went away? To cry without my seeing?”

What happens when we almost die is a hotly debated topic.  Author Gayle Forman handles this old topic in a refreshing way with a book that compels us to burn through the pages – it’s less than 200 pages but most young adult readers won’t put it down until they’re done. If I Stay is about relationships, passions, life and love. Some readers (or their parents) might object to the openness of Mia’s and Adam’s intimacy and that her parents fully accepted it. Some readers might disagree with the author’s concept of the out-of-body experience where Mia makes her choices to stay or go. But most readers will agree that Gayle Forman skillfully combines a variety of layers in this sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous story of life, death and choices.

If I Stay, in my opinion, will be found powerful for many pre-teen readers (possibly overwhelmingly powerful?), but mature young adults will enjoy the plot, characters and the love stories in this undeniably moving story from Gayle Forman.  You’d have to be pretty cold-hearted to not cry through the end of this story and were I still a teen I’d probably call this one of my favorite books.

A visceral journey into the post-apocalyptic wasteland down under. 94%

The Road Warrior (1981)

 

road_warrior

(5/5)

Pros:  Great story and character development, killer action scenes, awesome visual designs.

Cons: Minor quibbles with one special effect and Max’s ability to drive a semi-truck.

Mad Max 2 (released as The Road Warrior here in the US) has been a favorite of mine since first seeing it back in the mid-90’s, and this isn’t nostalgia clouding my judgment.  Through my tough standards of evaluating entertainment, The Road Warrior holds up in all the aspects that matter.

STORY

Set several years after the end of Mad Max, Max (Mel Gibson) has become a drifter into the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Australia as a burned out loner.  By this point, society has totally broken down and people have generally fallen into a “dog eat dog” mentality, particularly in fighting for gasoline.  After a series of small confrontations, Max sees himself caught in the struggle between a group of gasoline-producing people trying to restart normal lives and a gang of savages led by Lord Humongous (Kjell Nilsson).  Max is looking out only for himself, but in this struggle lays an opportunity to regain his humanity.

CHARACTERS

This is an area where The Road Warrior shines, despite the fact that many remember this movie for its vehicular action scenes and distinctive post-apocalyptic vision.  Max shines the most here, as his character is rife with ambiguity.  Max is the protagonist, yet doesn’t have the robust moral backbone associated with most action movie protagonists.  For the most part, he only cares about personal gain, especially with getting gasoline for his pursuit special.  Max’s “morally ambiguous” character is fleshed out perfectly because he’s not the “boy scout” hero yet at the same time isn’t the overly grim antihero who does all the wrong things for the right reasons.  One scene that I think was great for Max’s character was toward the beginning, when he finds part of a music box in the hand of a corpse inside the semi-truck he would later drive.  He plays the music box (which plays the “Happy Birthday” song) and you can see that it reminds him of a better life he once had, but he remains detached from his more “human” side.  Without spoiling much, there’s some dynamics going on with Max that while making him more interesting than if he remained static, the changes perfectly complement his character and don’t feel at all forced.

Other characters like the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), the Feral Kid (Emil Minty), and Lord Humongous have their own attributes that make them great characters in their own right.  The Gyro Captain has some interesting dynamics within him because he’s at first a more selfish opportunist, but after being humbled a bit after encountering Max, becomes more likeable and even thinks of working for the greater good.  The Feral Kid is perfect in Minty’s portrayal because just as the name implies, he acts just like an animal.  Despite his animal-like personality, the Feral Kid has a sturdy moral code as he acts in ways to benefit others, such as helping Max escape one of Humongous’s men who gets nosy when he hears Max slip down a small hill in the night.

Lord Humongous and Wez (Vernon Well) are perfect villains for the movie.  Wez doesn’t have much depth, but I’m glad he doesn’t because his more direct “savage” personality and grizzly actions make him perfect for the role.  Wez, on the other hand, has some more depth all the while not taking away from his nefarious attitude and actions.  He can dish out articulate speeches to his opponents and in a scene where Wez loses it, he restrains him and tells him about how he understands his pain and that they all lost someone they loved.  These attributes make Humongous more complex and particularly with his little talk to Wez, indicates that he has some feelings that make him more than a self-serving villain.

All in all, the characters are great fits for their roles and I really wouldn’t change much in this area.

APPEARANCE

The crew that made this movie really did a marvelous job with everything associated with the appearance of The Road Warrior.  Like a true post-apocalyptic setting in the middle of nowhere, everything looks beaten up (particularly the vehicles) and particularly with the weapons the characters use, they’re relegated almost entirely to using primitive weaponry like knives and crossbows.  To add a sense of realism to the setting, gun ammo is extremely scarce; as only Max and Lord Humongous possess firearms in this movie (Max has a sawed-off shotgun while Humongous has a big revolver).  It’s interesting that the compound settlers do have some technology that’s closer to what was had in the “old world,” such as electric-powered lighting and welding equipment, all done thanks to the small oil refinery they built.

The costumes are really well-done, and particularly with Humongous’s wasteland “war dogs,” many of them are dressed in a combination of bondage gear and primitive body decorations to give them a more barbarian appearance to better suit their cruel actions.

The special effects are for the most part, done very well.  Many of the car chases, explosions, and even some gore are very convincing in execution.  The whole ending chase scene is the best example of the vehicular special effects, while the scene towards the beginning where Wez pulls out an arrow that got shot into his arm looks quite real and is pretty painful to watch.  The only scene where I thought one of the effects wasn’t pulled off well is that when a few of Humongous’s minions breaks into the compound, the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) cuts the minion’s throat, yet it didn’t really look like she really cut him.  Oh well, that’s really the only blemish I could think of in the otherwise solid special effects and other visual elements.

ACTION SCENES

Many know and love The Road Warrior for its action scenes, and I totally see why.  This is one of the most thrilling vehicular action movies ever made.  Many remember the “tanker chase” scene as the highlight of the movie (and it is, and I won’t spoil it because it’s just that awesome), though there are plenty of other action scenes that really bolster this film.  In particular, the scene of Max driving the Mack semi truck and getting it to the compound settlers was very thrilling.  It was simultaneously cool and funny to see two of Humongous’s men try to stop the truck by blowing out its tires with a customized truck armed with an air-powered arrow turret, but the Gyro Captain drops a snake on the arrow gunner, causing him to panic severely and accidentally shoot the driver, resulting in a fatal crash.

While I’m talking about the scene of Max taking the truck to the settlers, I do have a minor quibble with one aspect of it.  Max is a former policeman, and it seems pretty odd that he’s able to fluidly drive a semi-truck in this movie.  As someone who’s currently trying to get extra work driving a large commercial vehicle, I can tell you that the clutch on such a truck is harder to use than that of a regular car with a standard transmission.  George Miller and Byron Kennedy could have resolved this issue by simply inserting a scene with Max driving the truck telling himself “Those truck driving courses were handy after all.”

SOUNDTRACK

Brian May’s score for the movie is a perfect fit for the movie.  His orchestral compositions perfectly fit the moods of the scenes throughout the movie, and in particular with the ending chase scene, it’s interesting to hear the music sort of weave in and out of the scenes.  In some parts of this chase you hear the music kick in and it’ll then stop to allow the viewer to focus on the chase and then start back up.

MATURE CONTENT

This is not a movie for the kids because there’s plenty of violent and even some grizzly sexual content in it.  Among the bloody parts of the movie is a scene of Wez’s male lover getting a boomerang embedded into his forehead and Max getting pretty torn up after getting ambushed by Wez before the big chase for the fuel-hauling tanker truck.  There’s also a scene where some of Humongous’s men rape and kill a female settler from a distance while mortally wounding her male companion, and even a scene where Wez shoots a hapless rabbit with his wrist-mounted bow.  The Road Warrior has plenty of visceral content, but as a whole, it’s on the same level as many other action movies from the 80’s.

FINAL WORD

I would go as far to say that this is the crowning jewel of filmmakers George Miller and Byron Kennedy, along with actor Mel Gibson.  If you love visceral post-apocalyptic action with robust story and character development, get it now if you don’t, and if you do have it in your collection, watch it again.

The Long, Lost Aphex Twin Record Impresses Two Decades Late: The CAUSTIC WINDOW LP

CAUSTIC WINDOW Self-titled Album

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About the album 

(4/5)

Pros: Unreleased music from Richard D. James a.k.a. Aphex Twin; a welcome contrast to typical electronica circa 2014

Cons: Probably would have been a curiosity piece at best in the bigger framework of James’ music career had it been released when produced in 1994

Regarded by many as one of the most important electronic musicians of the modern era, Richard D. James (usually identified under the moniker of Aphex Twin) has produced a seemingly endless body of work since first bursting onto the scene in the early 1990s and appeared to predict and/or inspire most every major electronic genre that’s turned up in the subsequent decades. In 1992, James released Selected Ambient Works 1985-92, an album described as one of the best of the decade, followed up two years later with the similarly outstanding Selected Ambient Works, Volume II that is one of my favorite records of all time – period. During the second half of the ‘90s, James flirted with mainstream success on the strength of several full-length albums and stand-alone singles that touched on all sorts of sonic territory. Some of these tracks (the almost demonic “Come to Daddy” comes to mind immediately) were downright disturbing, but at his best and perhaps most often, James infused gentle and supremely pleasant ambient backgrounds with more danceable rhythms and noticeable melodies.

Richard d. james
Richard D. James the (mad)man behind Aphex Twin.

Right as James seemed to be on the cusp of genuine mainstream accessibility after the truly exhilarating 1999 “Windowlicker” single however, he retreated into obscurity for more than a decade. 2001’s Druqks was far too abstract for many listeners to deal with, and perhaps suggested that James simply had gotten tired of trying to appease mass audiences. Following that album, new releases from James were all but non-existent throughout the remainder of the 2000s, leaving many fans including myself wondering if we’d ever get to hear another Aphex Twin album. Right when all seemed lost, 2014 shows up as the year in which Richard D. James reappeared on an electronic music scene that in my opinion is desperately in need of his unique contributions.

aphex twin music

In spring of April 2014, a copy of a semi-legendary, unreleased 1994 album from James (recording under the name “Caustic Window”) turned up on discogs.com, prompting a response from legions of Aphex Twin fans who initiated a kickstarter campaign to purchase the LP, apparently one of about five copies that were pressed as a test run. Upon the funding goal being reached in May, the Caustic Window LP was provided as a digital download to persons who had given money to the cause. In the bigger scheme of things, the self-titled Caustic Window album is a lesser work from James, a piece that clearly was made at the time when James’ music was very much in a transitional period. Still, it plays like a revelation considering that there’s been no new material from Richard D. James since the mid 2000’s – an album that only reaffirms the man’s influence over what has happened in electronic music in the last twenty years.

James through the years...
The many faces of Richard D. James

Many of the tracks on Caustic Window (which are instrumentally-based save the occasional, heavily manipulated vocal sample) suggest that at the time this was made in 1994, James was experimenting with ways of combining his earlier ambient recordings with more accessible, dance-floor ready melodies and beats. Opening track “Flutey” starts out like relatively low-key drum and bass, with a skittering helicopter-like sound acting as metronome. Shortly, we get warm keyboard tones providing a chord structure for the rest of the elements here to work off of: typical of James’ music, there’s a sense of perfectionism to the music, as if everything has been precisely planned out and executed. A fluttery woodwind-like melody provides a playful main theme in the song, while the slightly jumbled keyboard chords sound out underneath; the whole thing is deceptively complex. While some artists are borderline reckless as they cram more and more elements into their music, the construction of James’ music seems effortless despite the fact that there’s usually a lot going on at any given time. It’s almost as if these sounds are floating in straight out of a dream – which perhaps isn’t entirely wrong considering James’ claims that most of his songs come to him in his subconscious state.

hurry back richard d. james

“Stomper 101mod Detunekik” (presumably named after the equipment used to produce it) has a much more pronounced, rollicking rhythm to it and more discernible sense of momentum as well, pushed along by a sputtering, slightly out of tune melody and droning, ghostly background tones. The loud and more stereotypically techno track “Mumbly” features punchy, alarm-like keyboard tones, odd vocals samples, and a shuffling rhythm while the brief “Popeye” seems to be a snippet of a larger and decidedly gnarlier composition. Laid back but vaguely disquieting, “Fingertrips” combines ambient background chords with darker clangs of discordant noise elements, and “Revpok” is vintage, abrasive James acid house. All these pieces seem to be sonic experiments that would lead to the typically quirky brand of electro featured on Aphex Twin’s mid ‘90s albums I Care Because You Do (released in 1995) and The Richard D. James Album (from 1996), and as such, they’d be really interesting for fans who have often stood in awe of James’ compositional abilities. One can easily get an idea where tracks later James tracks like “Mookid,” “Alberto Balsam,” or even “Ventolin” (a track meant to simulate the feeling of an asthma attack) came from.

OK
So maybe not all of James’ music is warm and cuddly…

The second half of Caustic Window continues with the sort of “anything goes” electro heard on its first half: we have the short but aggressive “AFX Tribal Kik,” a track in “Airflow” that plays like a techno remix of an early ambient recording, and the chilled-out “Squidge in the Fridge” that’s driven by a looping, squelchy tone, warm backing tones, and a relaxed beat. “Fingry” may be the perfect example of James’ usual compositional style since it transitions from a opening which establishes harsh rhythm elements into a sweeping ambient section and finally unleashes a strange and inhospitable tangle of warbling bass and drum accents that seem designed to throw a listener off. Many of James’ compositions seem to work in this manner, demonstrating different, more creative ways in which electronic elements can be utilized. Burpy low tones and skittering rhythms give life to the elevator music melody in “Jazzphase,” and the lengthy “101 Rainbows Ambient Mix” showcases a crisp, almost mechanized rhythm and airy melodies galore: a very calming piece that may be my favorite here. The album starts to wind down with two more harsh, noise-driven pieces in the crackly “Phlaps” and evil-sounding, nearly diarrhetic drum and bass of “Cunt,” before ending with a two-minute track of prank phone calls. These ending tracks seem a somewhat strange conclusion to this record since they stand in opposition to the more easy-to-listen-to pieces occurring earlier on the album, but no one ever said Richard James played by the rules.

electro
Considering how much the world of electro (and music in general) has changed in the last decade, I’m interested to hear James’ new album, due in September

Honestly, the best thing about the Caustic Window LP is that its creator hadn’t released any new music for years prior to this album finding its way into the world. In 1994, this follow-up to the Selected Ambient Works albums would have been a curiosity piece at best – it really doesn’t compare to the mind-expanding pieces that featured on James’ two ambient albums. Twenty years later, Caustic Window is positively unique and a reminder of just what the world of electronic music has been missing for the past decade-plus. In an era where the world of electro seems to latch onto a new sound every other week, this album is like stumbling into an old friend you forgot you had, offering a refreshing and invigorating alternative to what’s typically heard in today’s day and age. Caustic Window is definitely not the best nor my favorite recording from Richard D. James, but that doesn’t mean by any stretch that it’s not worthwhile. It ain’t dubstep and it’s not entirely what fans of modern electro might want, but this album (which is about a must for fans of Aphex Twin) might just show modern electronic artists a different (and possibly better) way of doing things.

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Who Needs to be Rescued the Most?

An Unexpected Grace by Kristin von Kreisler

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See it at Amazon 

(0/5)

Pros: Grace

Cons: Not well thought out, primary character unlikable, large dog lovers will cringe at some situations

Spoiler Alert: This review has spoilers but I’m not recommending  it as something to be read.

Kristin von Kreisler’s An Unexpected Grace comes with a fully predictable ending wrapped up in a frustrating storyline that had this dog lover agonizing over the continued stupidity. I’ll quickly say that the dog deserved better, that the primary character Lila was completely unlikeable and those around her were unbelievably insensitive when thinking she would be good for the dog.  Lila is clearly a head case.

 

Being a head case is understandable. She was shot at work.

The book is about Lila Elliot, a “starving artist” who works an ordinary office job, who is living in a run-down apartment and licking her heartbreak wounds after a breakup with her long-term boyfriend.  The story opens at work when a recently fired janitor enters and shoots and kills several colleagues and injures others including Lila. Following her surgery Lila’s best friend Cristina cares for her at her home and offers refuge for recuperation. Coincidentally Cristina is also fostering a severely abused Golden Retriever named Grace.

Grace was stolen by a hunky, well-intended young man who had observed the dog’s abuse. Grace had been tied up out in the neighbor’s backyard, during all types of weather, with very little food. Her collar had not been changed over the years and had cut deeply into the dog’s neck. Adam rescued the dog by taking her and hiding her at Cristrina’s house.

 

Soon after Lila started living at her friend’s house Cristina leaves with her husband and children for a six-month long business trip. Naturally she asks Lila to remain, rent free, and oh, by-the-way, take care of Grace. Lila is terrified of dogs because of a dog bite as a child; there is no way she will ever even touch a dog let alone like one yet it seems that Lila and Adam have been scheming to get Lila to adopt the dog so that they would be each other’s therapist. This, in my opinion, seems insensitive and foolish and I wondered why they didn’t consider an official rescue group who would try hard to locate a suitable foster home. (That however wouldn’t have worked in this story.)

 

Lila is emotionally disturbed. She hears internal voices from different personalities. Her Crazy Aunt voice seems to be manipulating her thoughts most days although it might have been her Pleaser voice that got her into so much trouble. She’s obsessed with finding out more about the man who shot her. He, as so often happens, died during the shooting so there won’t be any closure in court. She suffers from undiagnosed PTSD.  I can understand her trauma and her unrealistic thoughts and her need for time to recover. I can understand her having a therapy dog. Being shot while in the safety of your workplace has to be horribly unsettling. Yet, I never enjoyed this character.

 

An Unexpected Grace is about the recovery of both Grace and Lila. Both were emotionally and physically damaged and both needed help. Unfortunately much of this storyline simply doesn’t make sense.

 

  • Why place a sweet but desperately lonely Golden Retriever under the care of a woman who not only makes it completely clear she doesn’t like dogs but also has physical and emotional trauma that makes it nearly impossible for her to care for the dog?
  • Cristina and Adam both professed to be caring dog people, but why expose this needy dog solely to Lila?
  • Adam essentially disappeared for a long period of time after placing Grace under Lila’s care. Yet, he becomes angry with her when she attempts to leave Grace at an animal shelter. But wait, he doesn’t take Grace from Lila at that time. What?
  • Lila had been “caring” for Grace for several weeks when she took her to the animal shelter.  Staff fancy-pupsthere removed Grace’s bandana. Lila was extremely shocked to see the scars and exposed raw skin under the bandana and said she had never removed the bandana and had no idea. Isn’t one of the first rules of writing to write about what you know? My dogs both wear bandanas and I need to re-tie them at least twice a day.
  • Lila was completely unaware of how to take care of or groom a dog and had not brushed or bathed this golden until after the animal shelter trip. There’s more.

 

Perhaps I’m crazy but none of this makes sense. Between irresponsible dog lovers and friends, unrealistic events and unpredictable 180 degree personality changes, as well as an unlikeable main character this book left me cold and occasionally angry. Ms. von Kreisler has dogs, helps with rescuing, yet I wonder if she would ever leave a dog like Grace with someone like Lila? When I explained all of my concerns to my blond lab she just stared and said stupid happens and thanks for not being one of those people.

 

The best authors make it nearly impossible to predict the ending. Crazy-dog-ladyOften I can guess the conclusion several chapters out from the end. That’s fine. I had the conclusion for An Unexpected Grace within the first couple chapters once meeting Adam. Several times I almost walked away but kept reading on the basis of several reviews. One, who claimed that this was an OK story, but assumed that a dog lover would probably enjoy more — that was an incorrect assumption.  Anyone who knows me or follows my reviews quickly realizes that dogs are important family members. There is a “crazy dog lady” bumper sticker on my car. I finished this simply to see how the author wrapped up the story. Lila remained creepy, even after she has her epiphany. Her Crazy Aunt trait disappears and her Horny Guttersnipe personality takes over toward the end.

 

How does this end? Predictably. The 180-degree turns don’t make sense. I rolled my eyes a lot when she suddenly becomes the person she hasn’t been. I’m left wondering how stable she’ll be in the future but that’s fortunately not my problem.  This book was read in its entirety but does not earn any recommendations from this dog and book lover.

+++++++++++++

 Golden Retriever Rescue groups exist and most would bend over backwards to find a suitable foster home for this dog or any other dog in this situation. A national site, National Rescue Committee, a committee of the GRCA, can help point people to local sites.

“Listen – You’re Just a Little Far Out…” BLOODLUST!

BLOODLUST!

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Find it on Amazon 

(2.5/5) meh

Pros: Graphic violence in 1959? SHOCKING!

Cons: Lack of suspense; timeline of narrative seems screwy; “those meddling kids…”

A cheapie adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game in which a sort of big-game hunter sets his sights on human prey, 1959’s Bloodlust! (unreleased until 1961) chronicles the efforts of a group of (meddling) kids to escape from a remote island ruled over by a pompous millionaire with a “private trophy room” full of preserved human victims. Apparently, this hunter named Balleau has enlisted the services of a local boat captain to provide him with humans to hunt down with his trusty crossbow, though the unannounced appearance of two pairs of young lovebirds (Johnny and Betty, Pete and Jeanne) throws his normal routine into chaos. When the kids inevitably discover the secret taxidermy room where various stiff-jointed assistants prepare rubbery-looking human bodies for display, it sets into motion a string of events that eventually finds Johnny and Pete themselves in Balleau’s cross hairs. Can these kids find a way off the island, or will they wind up as permanent mementos of Balleau’s past conquests?

straight outta scooby doo
Straight outta Scooby-Doo, it’s the pesky young adult characters.  ‘Let’s have a clam bake,’ they said.  ‘It’ll be fun,’ they said….



Clocking in at just 68 minutes in length, Bloodlust! benefits from the fact that writer/director Ralph Brooke’s script doesn’t waste much time in setting up its basic story.  This film barrels along towards an ending that has an element of (cheesy) surprise to it, though I can’t altogether say that the script is all that consistent.  I could almost be led to believe that this film originally was around 90 minutes long, with more capable development in terms of its narrative, but was unceremoniously hacked down to a little over an hour to fit in with theater scheduling as the second half of a double bill. The sense of a timeline in the film just seems off: as it stands in its final version, there are quite a few transitions that I would call “jumpy,” moving forward without much of an explanation or sense of purpose. Finally, the events in this film building up to the climax aren’t all that suspenseful, which is partly due to a jagged editing scheme and partly the fault of a music score by Michael Terr that is rather lifeless. Right when this film should be hooking an audience with a sense of tension, it feels lazy and dull. All these issues may simply be due to the fact that this was the first feature both written and directed by Brooke, who was known more as a bit player in movies from the mid 1940’s onward, but in the end, I’d have to say that this film is certainly watchable and more accomplished than some B-grade pictures of its day.

taxidermy process
I’m not sure if the film exactly has a firm grasp on the taxidermy process, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Set design in the film is fairly well done, detailing both a limited number of interior locations (including the shadowy trophy room itself which is hidden in a cave) and the tropical jungle that surrounds Balleau’s estate. Generally, I thought the moody black and white photography of Richard E. Cunha was also pretty decent; no one is going to mistake this for a big-budget production, but it would nearly compare in terms of its look at feel to the surprisingly good genre pictures of the ‘40s made by the likes of Edgar G. Ulmer. Though the skeletons slung around the “Tree of Death” that exists in the middle of the jungle and assorted body parts in the taxidermy studio look very rubbery, Bloodlust! includes a few scenes of startlingly graphic violence which would have indeed been shocking in 1959. Arrows pierce human flesh, a face is dissolved with acid, and there’s even a sequence where a man is more or less crucified on a rack, replete with blood flow from his nailed-on hands. This level of gore wasn’t all that common during this period in cinema history, and even though it wouldn’t do much for today’s viewers used to the excesses of modern horror, I’d have to say that some theatergoers at the time would have probably been disgusted.

oh!
“Oh, you didn’t recognize me as the villain of this piece?”

The cast for Bloodlust! presents a mixed bag through and through: Wilton Graff (mainly known for smaller roles in bigger movies of the 1940s onward) capably plays Balleau as a man shattered by the second World War who takes up hunting human victims to satisfy his murderous desires. This character has both a very human side to him, and a cold, absolutely sinister one, and I thought Graff did a nice job of playing the role with an air of grandiloquence. The actors playing the young people on the other hand are by and large annoying. Robert Reed (“Mike Brady” on The Brady Bunch) plays Johnny, the character most clearly identified as the hero – though it’s difficult to accept him as such since he frequently seems like a bit of a jerk due to his tendency to pass all the dangerous tasks off on his friend Pete (played as a sort of lovable dork by Eugene Persson). Pete winds up being the more courageous character, and one can almost forgive Jeanne, the girlfriend character played by Joan Lora, for fawning over him (“Oh Pete…you’re wonderful!” UGH!).

Balleau
DUN DUN! Balleau and his learning-disabled henchmen.

Unfortunately, a viewer quickly gets tired of listening to Jeanne screech and complain about any situation she finds herself in (“Can I say it just one more time: I’m scared!” – GROAN!). Her character seems like a ditz, and I really wished at a certain point that she would fall into one of the quicksand pits sprinkled around the island and disappear from the narrative. Johnny’s girlfriend Betty (played by June Kenney) is a bit more tolerable, mainly because she seems resourceful and level-headed, not just the obligatory female thrown in to prove that Johnny isn’t gay. Smaller roles in the film are occupied by Walter Brooke (as a drunken inhabitant of the island), Lilyan Chauvin (Balleau’s vaguely foreign wife, who’s involved in an illicit relationship with Brooke’s character), and Troy Patterson (as the pleasure boat captain leading voyagers to their doom on Balleau’s island), but Bill Coontz nearly (maybe?) steals the show as the “insane man in the woods” who shows up late in the going to foam at the mouth and scream nonsensically for what seems like an eternity. Lots of screaming during certain parts of this movie: be prepared to adjust your volume!

Coontz
Coontz ARGGH! as the ARGGH! insane man in the ARGGH! woods ARGGH!

It’s somewhat odd that Bloodlust! would be marketed rather obviously as a horror picture. In spite of the sometimes graphic onscreen carnage, I’d probably be more inclined to call it an adventure film or maybe even a (generally ineffective) suspense thriller, and though it doesn’t hold a candle to the classic 1932 film adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game (released under that very title), it’s actually not that bad. Don’t get me wrong: the film has substantial problems, some of which are caused by its minimal budget – a scene where “judo expert” Betty is replaced onscreen by an obvious male stuntman had me cracking up, and the film also has an abundance of highly amusing, unintentionally (?) funny dialogue (“How do you get your kicks on a place like this?” “Kicks? Oh, I have my…diversions…“). Bloodlust! wouldn’t wind up on anyone’s list of the greatest films ever made, but surely it’s better than its reputation as pure trash cinema. If you catch this on TV (or have the desire to watch it for free online), it’s a worthwhile time-waster.

AREGGH!

disc deets
This public domain film has been released in a number of DVD packages (I might recommend one of the multi-film packs like Mill Creek’s 12-movie Cult Terror Cinema collection), and can be watched online for free here.

blood & guts
4/10 : Brief glimpses of what in 1959 would have been rather graphic gore – and even some flowing blood!

smack talk
looking...looking...
0/10 : No profanity, but the subject matter may be a bit distressing for some.

fap factor
1/10 : Fleeting reference to the fact that Balleau may have some rather despicable plans for the young ladies…

whack attack
5/10 : Low-rent adaptation of a classic story; as such, it really ain’t all that bad.

GI JOE
“It amuses me now that I found it distasteful at first. And as time went by I adjusted my new activity. For what had been an unpleasant duty became a pleasure then it developed into a passion and then into a lust. A lust for blood! A lust that has grown with the years! And one that I spend my entire life trying to satisfy.”

Trailer:

or Click Below to Watch the Film!
movie!

JIM’S NEWEST BEST FRIEND – HIS DURO-MED WALKER

Duro-Med 2-Button Adjustable Aluminum Folding Walker

 
 
 

 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Assists silently, easily and seems quite sturdy

Cons:  Screws become loose ( big ‘Con’)

I have a very new friend. I’ll call him Jim.

Jim is 89 years old, and has recently moved from Los Angeles to Eugene (Oregon) so his daughter can more practically care for him. Jim’s wife died in May of this year. They were married fifty-seven years. He has been in deep grief and at first, saw very little reason to even get out of bed.

My sister works at the retirement center where Jim now lives.  She was telling me how sad, despite her best efforts, it has been watching him decline, not only physically, but moreover, psychologically. Taking zero-interest in any of the usual programs the center offers it’s residents, more than anything Jim needed a passive companion – someone to talk with, watch a few sports programs, or share a few memories. I volunteered.  What a blessing – for me, as well as Jim.

Jim uses a Duro-Med 2-Button Adjustable Aluminum Walker and gets around with it very well.  Of course, ‘getting around’ mostly means rising from his bed or television chair and wheeling himself into the bathroom, or down to the dining room. The Duro-Med Walker seems to be the perfect appliance for him to get around safely, steadily and because the walker only weighs six pounds, quite handily.

Having no personal experience with any walker, I can only detail the specific features of the Duro-Med 2-Button Adjustable Aluminum Folding Walker.

  • Two ample 5″ non-swivel wheels that roll quietly and effortlessly
  • Slip-resistant rubber tips
  • 250 lb. weight capacity
  • Constructed of anodized 1″ aluminum tubing with *rivet construction
  • Legs adjust from 32″ to 38″ for comfort and to help promote proper posture
  • Soft foam hand grips
  • Two-button release for easy folding, compact storage and lateral access
  • Steel cross-brace for more stability
  • Weighs just 6.8 pounds

* About the rivet issue. On my first visit I noticed one of the rivets on the walker had come loose. I tightened it with my fingers as well as I could, making a mental note to mention it to his daughter, which I did. On my next visit I took a Phillips screwdriver and tightened it again.  I think this is an issue that needs to be looked into further. Spending the amount of time with Jim I have these past few weeks, I know he does not over-use or abuse the walker, so I’m thinking this is a product fault. 

 

Duro-Med Walker with Wheels and Seat, Royal Blue

Another Duro-Med  Assisted Walker, with wheels and a resting seat. I see a lot of these at the retirement center.

I haven’t gotten Jim to go outside yet, so I don’t know the performance of the walker on grass or sidewalk cracks, but hopefully that will happen soon. I’ll update this review when it does. I’m happy to say Jim has been laughing at small jokes, snacking on granola I bring him, and looking forward to his meals.  If this is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.  

 The Duro-Med Walker Jim uses costs in the $40.00 range and is available through Amazon, Sears and other outlets.  I was unable to find their direct website. 

UPDATE – later this same day. . .I have just come from the center and spending a couple hours with Jim.  I took a much closer look at the walker and have a clarification to make.  What I mistook for a rivet is actually a screw with a Phillips head. The walker does have rivets, but they are tight and uncompromised.  It is the screws that keep loosening.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gingerbread_Boy

Black & Decker Spatula Smart Hand-Mixer: Cookie Doughn’t

Black & Decker Spatula Smart Hand Mixer Model MX300

 

See it at Amazon 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Relatively inexpensive.  Does what hand-mixers are designed to do – whip cream, mash potatoes and beat egg whites.

Cons: Made in China.  Noisy.  Slowest speed too fast.  Stiff batters such as cookie dough will likely cause permanent gear damage or total unit failure.  Black & Decker small kitchen appliances badge-engineered – built by Spectrum Brands.

Back in the day, our kitchen didn’t have room for a dedicated stand mixer.  One Christmas, my mom received a Sunbeam hand-mixer in an era when wives did not take offense to such practical household gifts.  She ran that thing for years until the bottoms of the metal beaters wore down to tin-foil.  When it was finally retired, the motor and gears were still fully-functional.

Since that time, planned obsolescence and corporate musical chairs have rendered the small appliance market a hazy quagmire of quasi-quality.  Though the name is still around, the company responsible for that indestructible Sunbeam is but a memory.  A succession of inferior, name-brand mixers just couldn’t coalesce the cookie dough without stripping a plastic gear in the process.

Though innocent in appearance, mixing dense cookie dough has been the bane of many a modern hand-mixer.  [Getty Images]
Though innocent in appearance, mixing dense cookie dough has been the bane of many a modern hand-mixer. [Getty Images]
Teamwork

Today, the Black & Decker Spatula Smart Hand-Mixer (Model MX300) has assumed third-string status behind my Jenn-Air planetary stand mixer and a stationary Mixmaster with conventional beater arrangement.  The former has become a dedicated bread-kneader, while the contemporary Sunbeam – with its dual stainless bowls – excels at cake construction.

Bland & Decker

While its pedestrian appearance would inspire yawns from legendary industrial designers like Raymond Loewy, its reasonable price will make it attractive to fledgling cooks outfitting starter-kitchens.  Those who occupy a world of take-out and TV-dinners should benefit from this mixer’s limited qualifications.

Such light-duty tasks as whipping cream and mixing frosting are within the capability of the Black and Decker.  [Image:  Foodista.com]
Such light-duty tasks as whipping cream and mixing frosting are within the capability of the Black and Decker. [Image: Foodista.com]
Five Speeds, No Waiting

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of a slow speed.  As a result, creaming butter and sugar for your favorite cake can be an adventure.  If the butter isn’t thoroughly softened, chunks will fly about the room at random – regardless of how deep a bowl you use.  Placing the bowl on the dish rack in my double-basin sink limits the degree of mess created, but should such impromptu culinary methodology be necessary?

Spatula Silly

This unit is fitted with two gimmicky features of limited worth.  The spatula feature is designed to scrape the mixing bowl as you work – but it accomplishes little in a straight-sided bowl – and nothing if the bowl is tapered.  An attachment so inconsequential, I couldn’t tell you what has become of mine since its solo flight those many moons ago.  The latest generation of this mixer does-away with the name and the attachment completely.

Unlike cookie dough, preparing cake batter is within the realm of the Black and Decker.  [Image:  Dailyclipart.net]
Unlike cookie dough, preparing cake batter is within the realm of the Black and Decker. [Image: Dailyclipart.net]
The second gimmick is called “Power Boost” and consists of a button that effectively turbo-charges the mixer into a state of spattering cacophony.  Pushing the button will occasionally cause the mixer to stop until it’s released and pushed again – a hiccup whose existence or remedy is not covered in the convenient Use & Care Manual.

Mindful Mixology

For the money, the Black & Decker Spatula Smart Hand-Mixer is functional for light-duty tasks.  Its 250-watt (one review site claims 250 horsepower) motor is sufficient to whip potatoes to a frenzy, while adjustments can be made to counter its food-hurling habits.

The adorable plight of the light-duty hand-mixer.  [Image:  Dailyclipart.net]
The adorable plight of the light-duty hand-mixer. [Image: Dailyclipart.net]

Keep in mind the fact that ultra-thick batters such as cookie dough will cause the motor to bog-down and stall – which does not bode well for a long and useful life. Appropriately used as a backup mixer, it will mash potatoes, whip cream and beat egg whites for years – which is the cumulative legacy of my current example.

 

Black & Decker Appliances
3001 Deming Way
Middleton, WI  53562

www.blackanddeckerappliances.com

Brainiac, The Collector of Worlds is Invading the Imaginext DC Super Friends Universe

Imaginext DC Super Friends: Brainiac

See it at Amazon 

(4.5/5)

Pros: Surprised by the Superman: The Animated Series style of the figure; really great bendable tentacles

Cons: One one figure pack instead of the usual two

One of Superman’s major adversaries finally comes to the world of Imaginext DC Super Friends. It was a big feat when Lex Luthor, Bizarro and General Zod. Even the Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips, makes his presence known. But one popular villain still hasn’t made an appearance. That is until now as the cold-hearted Brainiac is ready to annihilate the world.

Out of all the the various designs associated with this character, I was quite surprised to see the version from Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. However, Brainiac’s sleek design works very well for the Imaginext toy line.

Brainiac emits such a cold and calculating persona. People sometimes forget that he is a highly intelligent android made up of robotic parts. This comes across quite nicely through this design. Equally important is his alien nature. The combination of the two gives him such an otherworldly aloofness that is necessary for the character.

His bluish-green skin helps in that extraterrestrial appearance along with the vacant eyes. The three circles on his forehead showcases his Kryptonian symbol. Yes, this version of Brainiac originated from Krypton giving him even closer ties to Kal-El of Krypton. In fact it was Brainiac who convinced the Council of Elders not to heed Jor-El’s warning of Krypton’s imminent destruction. Of course Brainiac was all about self-preservation and didn’t care about Krypton’s destruction so as long as he survived. His mission: collect the knowledge about that planet and then destroy it.

A fun accessory is the removable backpack attached to Brainiac. Six tentacle arms protrude from the back allowing him to tap into any computer and download information. These arms bend into different positions. In a way, he reminds me of Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man lore.

Imaginext Brainiac3

Unfortunately, Brainiac is the only figure in this set. Usually two characters are put together. However, since his bendable tentacles take up so much room in the packaging, this is the reason why he is the sole figure.

I have to say that seeing Brainiac was quite a surprise. My son and I didn’t think any new characters were going to be made for this line but we were proven wrong. While my son’s interest has waned a little bit, see Brainiac renewed his interest. I always say that it’s not a successful line until you can complete the Legion of Doom from the Challenge of the Super Friends days. That’s where the popularity of these characters still remains. So far, the roll call from the Imaginext DC Super Friends line includes Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Riddler, Gorilla Grodd, Black Manta, Bizarro, and Scarecrow. That’s seven out of the thirteen members. I can easily see Sinestro, Captain Cold and Cheetah being made next. Giganta, Solomon Grundy and Toyman seem to be the longshots in the deal.

Brainiac is such a welcome addition to Superman’s villains. All of a sudden, the Man of Steel has some people to fight. While Superman’s villains are not as popular as Batman’s, there are still quite a few more I can see come to life in this line, such as Toyman, Metallo, Parasite, Mongul and perhaps even Doomsday.

_________________________________________________________

Related Imaginext Reviews
Adventure Castle
Adventure Castle

Castle
Knight & Eagle  ||  Knight & Wolf

DC Super Friends
Aquaman & Robo Shark  ||  Batcave  ||  Batmobile  ||  Batwing  ||  Bizarro  ||  Catwoman  ||  Clayface  ||  Cyborg with Mini ATV  ||  Green Lantern and Jet Set  ||  Hawkman and Flash  ||  The Joker  ||  The Joker & Harley Quinn  ||  K. Croc  ||  Planet Oa  ||  The Riddler  ||  The Riddler and Car  ||  Robin and Cycle Set  ||  Superman  ||  Two-Face
Kohl’s Exclusive: Super Friends Gift Set  ||  Villain Vehicle Set
Target Exclusive: Mini Figure The Joker  ||  Mini Figure Mr. Freeze  ||  Mini Figure Two-Face
Toys ‘R’ Us Exclusive: Batman and Batcopter Set  ||  Batman ATV  ||  Mr. Freeze and Cave Set  ||  Commissioner Gordon & Police Car

Justice League
Cyborg & Red Tornado  ||  Gorilla Grodd  ||  Superman & Darkseid

Toy Story 3
Buzz Lightyear with Spaceship  ||  Lotso, Chunk and Sparks   ||  Rex, Hamm and Alien  ||  Tri-County Landfill  ||  Tri-County Sanitation Garbage Truck  ||  Woody with Bullseye

_____________________________________________________________

***This is part of my 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off. Let your inner geekdom out. You have until the end of August. Join here.

 

The Verdict Don’t Look So Good…FMW’s THE JUDGMENT

FRONTIER MARTIAL ARTS WRESTLING: THE JUDGMENT

image-placeholder

See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5) meh

Pros: Tanaka vs. Fuyuki in an electrified cage

Cons: Highly-touted main event fizzles and the undercard is truncated to the point of incomprehensibility

By 1999, Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) had begun a transition to become more like what American organizations like the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were doing: in short, FMW was becoming based more on entertainment. This was quite a contrast to how things were when FMW was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a “garbage wrestling” promotion: where weapons, stipulation matches, and extreme violence were common place while rules were mostly thrown aside. In 1995, Onita sold the promotion to businessman Shoichi Arai, who toned down the violence (partly due to the fact that FMW was getting beaten at its own game by rival promotion Big Japan Pro Wrestling who sanctioned the most insane stipulation matches in history, including ones involving piranhas, scorpions, spider web barbed wire matches, and more) and set the company off in a new direction, though I’m not quite sure that focusing on pure wrestling and entertainment value was the way to go. Frankly, though the roster of FMW wrestlers was capable and many performers were undoubtedly willing to work incredibly hard during their matches, they didn’t have the “pop” or overwhelming technical prowess that would be needed to sell the promotion as a WWF-like organization.

ontia - singh
Atsushi Onita, on right, taking on one of the least talented, yet most famous wrestlers in Japan: Tiger Jeet Singh.

November 12, 1999 saw FMW mark its tenth anniversary with a show taking place at Yokohama Stadium. This event (billed as “Judgment Day”) would showcase numerous feuds that had been brewing in the organization over the previous months and in some cases, years. Unfortunately, the focus on entertainment value means that this whole card of action (featured in the TokyoPop DVD release entitled The Judgment) seems quite gimmicky. While I can appreciate technical wrestling if it’s done well, I’ve never been overly impressed with the technicality on display on any FMW DVD I’ve seen. Frequently, I might have described FMW wrestling as being downright sloppy.

NOT
NOT how you land a boot to the face…

I (and probably many other fans) first became interested in FMW due to the proliferation of violent stipulation matches: these were the types of matches that were usually avoided in the United States and, having grown up with Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling, a promotion that often focused on more hard-hitting and violent action, I probably was more blood-thirsty than the typical fan of World Wrestling Entertainment. Honestly, the stipulations contest and graphic violence were what put FMW on the map – and how the promotion was sold in the United States by TokyoPop. For Judgment Day to seem rather tame by the sometimes excessive standards of Japanese wrestling is a definite disappointment, but more damning is the fact that this DVD features heavily truncated matches that really weren’t all that great to begin with. These matches wrap up a few major soap opera-like storylines sure, but the overall program lacks punch.

barbed wire
Kanemura swinging a barbed wire bat that’s on fire. Now THAT‘s FMW.

Commentary on this DVD was provided by the pairing of John Watanabe on play-by-play and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski doing color commentary. I suppose the announcing is passable, but neither of these two guys really “sells” the wrestling in a manner to benefit what’s being seen. A good announcer (ECW’s Joey Styles comes to mind) can make even a dud match seem exciting and much better than it actually is. The somewhat lethargic commentary of Watanabe and Lovranski doesn’t heighten the excitement of any of the matches here, and having Lovranski scream and holler every once in a while makes the program annoying rather than compelling.

ah yes
But wrestling’s fake…

The first six matches on this DVD (out of the eight total) are presented only in highlighted form, edited down to being only a few minutes in length. This, to me, is highly irritating: it disrupts the ebbs and flows of the match, making it almost impossible for a viewer to determine if the match really was worthwhile at all. With that in mind, here’s the match rundown:

1. Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. “Choco Ball” Mukai, “Flying Kid” Ichihara and Ricky Fuji – A ladder match for the World Entertainment Wrestling six man tag team title, in which the title belt is suspended above the ring. A wrestler must scale the ladder and grab the belt to win the match for his team. Considering that Mukai is better known for his porno movies rather than his wrestling ability (you don’t wanna know how he got his nickname) says about all one needs to know here, and speaks to the fact that FMW was more interested in spectacle and sensationalism than athletic ability by this point in time. High point of the match arguably occurs when two females at ringside perform competing strip routines, thus distracting the male performers, and eventually get into a catfight. Yawn. One and a half stars (out of a possible five).

Choco ball mukai
“Choco Ball” Mukai – not a wrestler.

2. Kaori Nakayama and Emi Motokawa vs. Miss Mongol, Jazz, and Maria Hosaka – 2 on 3 womens handicap match for the Womens Tag Team Title. ECW performer Jazz joins the mix here, which pits obvious “babyface” team of Nakayama and Motokawa versus the more rough’n’tumble Mongol and Hosaka. This match seems fairly fast-paced but again, it’s impossible to judge this since we’re only seeing match highlights. There are some slick technical moves here and it appears to be a decent but unexceptional contest. Two and a half stars.

nakayama
Kaori Nakayama (for better or worse) became the face of FMW Women’s wrestling upon the retirement of Megumi Kudo.

3. “Bad Boy” Hido vs. Willy Williams – Here’s a rather bizarre event on a fight lineup that was already somewhat wonky. It’s basically a mixed-martial arts fight, with pro wrestler Hido taking on famous boxer/martial artist Williams in a match in which both fighters wear boxing gloves. There’s a combination of pro wrestling moves and traditional martial arts seen in the match, with Hido being on the receiving end of some extremely stiff kicks and strikes coming his way. Certainly an interesting contest, though it’s not exactly a barn-burner. Two stars.

Hido
Hido, here utilizing what appears to be the ring bell hammer, in my mind was one of the least talented performers in the promotion.

4. Naohiko Yamazaki and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. The Funk Brothers (Terry and Dory Funk Jr.) – For the first time since 1987, the legendary Funk brothers make an appearance in Japan as a tag team. Unfortunately, by this time Dory (who had to be in his mid-to-late 60s at the time) doesn’t seem all that interested in being in a match in the first place: moving very slowly and performing the same move over and over during his limited in-ring time (“…and another forearm…”). Terry does most of the work here, taunting his opponents with trash talk and doing the patented Funk “stumble ‘n’ bumble” like only he can. Always great to see Terry Funk in action, even in a somewhat iffy contest like this. Three stars just because it’s the Funks.

funks
Unfortunately, this picture of the Funks was taken almost thirty years prior to their 1999 reunion.

5. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Balls Mahoney – Kanemura, a wrestler famous for his violent, hardcore wrestling style takes on ECW’s own “chair-swinging freak” Mahoney in this “anything goes” match for the WEW Hardcore Title. Fight goes outside the ring and into the parking garage, where a parked sedan is positively destroyed by the two performers. Watch out for the powerbomb on the roof of the car and use of the broken windshield to slice up Mahoney’s face. Despite the rowdiness, this isn’t as bloody as one might expect, though it does have a punctuation mark finale involving the ring entrance set and scaffolding. Wild stuff, though not a classic. Three stars.

car
There’s something you don’t see everyday: a powerbomb on top of a car.

6. Tetsuhiro Kuroda and Hisakatsu Ooya vs. Tommy Dreamer and Raven – Renegade Japanese wrestler Kuroda and seasoned veteran Ooya take on the unlikely pairing of American wrestlers Dreamer and Raven, who had a ridiculously intense feud in the mid ‘90s while wrestling in ECW. This match is for the WEW Tag Team Title, and is pretty hard-hitting and wild, as might be expected from the ECW team. Dreamer gets abused particularly badly during the match, taking shots with a ladder and even a piece of the guardrail that’s thrown into the ring. Also, ECW valet Francine (wearing an extremely revealing outfit) gets involved in the contest, if only for a brief moment. This match was OK, but nothing spectacular – one might have expected more from the usually reliable Dreamer and Raven. Three stars.

dreamer & raven
Dreamer and Raven had some outrageous matches in their ECW days, including this steel cage war.

Finally, we reach the co-main event, which is presented in its entirety:
7. Kodo Fuyuki vs. Masato Tanaka for the WEW Heavyweight Title. This match, billed as a “Loser Leaves FMW, Thunderbolt Cage Match” takes place inside an electrified steel cage: get sent into the metal and a wrestler gets a jolt of “15,000 volts.” Yeah, I don’t believe it either, but the spectacle is “sold” well through the use of explosive charges and neon-like visualizations of flowing electricity. Match itself is easily the best on this card: these two veteran fighters had feuded extensively leading up to this match, which showcases the pure power each man brought to the table. Tanaka is arguably one of the legit toughest wrestlers I’ve ever seen step in the ring: this guy gets dropped directly on his skull several times, then gets right back up and continues fighting. I realize wrestlers know how to take “bumps,” but there’s a point where one simply can’t fake gravity. A very effective build up to the finale means that this match is quite exciting and tense to watch, especially since (if you believe the storyline) “the future of FMW hangs in the balance.” Yeah, OK – I’m just glad there was at least one, definitively worthwhile contest on this DVD. Four stars.

tanaka
That’s what you call absorbing a chair shot – Tanaka’s head emerges looking better than the chair.

The main event here was a match between Eiji Ezaki (the original Hayabusa, the most popular wrestler in FMW, billed here simply as “H”) and Masashi Honda (known in the ring as “Mr. Gannosuke,” and here billed as “Hayabusa II” after adopting the Hayabusa gimmick in a story angle). These two “former friends gone wrong” had been feuding in FMW for years at this point – a match between the two also featured as the main event of FMW’s Yokohama Deathmatch program. Immediately previous to this match, they’d also taken part in the infamous “Anal Bomb Match” in which the loser had a firecracker inserted into his bum and exploded. Yes, that’s about as insane as Japanese wrestling has ever gotten.

anal bomb
The infamous “anal bomb” match.

Their “Judgment Day” match was officiated by none other than WWE superstar Shawn Michaels (“I wanna make sure Michaels can even count to three…do we know that for a fact?”), who (unsurprisingly) found himself getting involved in the contest at various points. After the insane lead-up to this fight, one might have been expecting something phenomenal…but that’s simply not what we got here. This match actually is rather sluggish; it’s much more about psychology than dazzling moves even if both guys show off their trademark superior wrestling technique. It’s not that the match is awful: it’s perfectly acceptable, and demonstrates the chemistry these two performers have with one another. Still, compared to the absolutely ridiculous main events that viewers expect to see in the world of pro wrestling, this is just a bummer, most notable for what occurs post-fight. I’m giving it three stars.

blood feud
Gannosuke caught up in one of Hayabusa’s submissions.

To be completely honest, The Judgment is one of the most painfully mediocre FMW DVDs in the TokyoPop home video series. There’s plenty of talent on this card, but the fact that so much of the card is truncated to the point of no return makes it iffy, with the somewhat sketchy main event only further sinking the overall program. I suppose the point could be argued that this tenth anniversary event was more about settling up various FMW storylines and not necessarily focused on delivering the best matches the promotion has ever seen – but that’s about a asinine statement to make: why wouldn’t one expect the bar to be raised to a high level at this much-anticipated show? It’s almost as if this card proved that FMW simply was expecting a bit too much from its performers in trying to compete with the WWF: there’s no way this semi-bootleg Japanese promotion could rival the classic Andre-Hogan feuds or any number of other classic American (or for that matter, Japanese) wrestling moments. In the end, The Judgment might be worth a look to fans of Japanese wrestling, but it wouldn’t at all impress those accustomed to the larger-than-life approach that’s frequently taken in regard to American wrestling. I’d only moderately recommend it.

disc deets
TokyoPop’s DVD is presented full screen; decent picture quality transferred from the original VHS masters. Extras included a selection of trailers, a gallery of wrestler profiles, two minutes of backstage footage taken following The Judgment‘s main event (even more lines of b.s. from the two performers!), and two highlighted bonus matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Jado, and Kintaro Kanemura – 1 on 3 handicap match, mainly establishing the Tanaka vs. Fuyuki angle. Funny that Jado and Fuyuki all but vanish from this match at a certain point, at which time FMW president Mr. Arai shows up at ringside to aid Tanaka. All in all, the match seems very gimmicky, and since we only see clips of the action, it’s somewhat pointless. One and a half stars.

2. H, “Flying Kid” Ichihara, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. Hayabusa II, “Choco Ball” Mukai, Koji Nakagawa, and Gedo – A more fast-paced match; it should be considering there’s eight guys involved in this contest. Having said that, it’s really bizarre that at a certain point in these match highlights, this contest turns into a 4-on-1 match, in which the Hayabusa II team assaults Flying Kid’s valet. Match is interrupted by Kuroda, who storms the ring on a motorcycle – despite the fact the contest takes place at the crowded and cramped Korakuen Hall. As expected, it boils down to a slugfest between H and Hayabusa II, with stiff kicks being delivered by H. Has it’s moments, but the truncation doesn’t help. Two and a half stars.

blood & guts
5/10 : Some weapon spots, a few instances of blood, and violent wrestling action. The most brutal thing here is easily the Tanaka-Fuyuki cage match, and honestly, that’s nothing compared to the worst/best Japan had to offer.

smack talk
4/10 : Intermittent profanity (usually delivered by the American stars appearing in the program). Gotta love that Terry Funk trash talk…

fap factor
2/10 : A catfight breaks out at one point, and there are more scantily clad women than usual on this FMW DVD.

whack attack
6/10 : Fans of Japanese wrestling would probably want to check this out, though it’s far from being the best compilation out there.

GI JOE
Shawn Michaels on FMW: “This is the reason FMW is the number one promotion is Japan – excellent athletes and one hell of sportsmanship.” Um, Engrish much? Also, your check can be picked up in the back office. Now go home.

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