Sleep No More – Iris Johansen – Don’t lose any sleep over this one.

Sleep No More by Iris Johansen

 

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See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: The character of Kendra – Going to have to check out her series!

Cons: Dull, predictable story, that doesn’t show off Eve’s talents

I always liked Iris Johansen’s Eve Duncan books. Note the past tense.

Sleep No More disappoints on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that this book has nothing to do with Eve’s forensic sculpting ability. Even though that’s her career, and the books typically follow a pattern whereby Eve has to reconstruct a face from a skull, identify the person, and figure out the manner of death.

However, in this book, Eve’s dealing with a personal situation. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it’s a departure from the usual formula. And I’d be Ok with that, if the situation were exciting and realistic. But in this case, it’s just a mess.

Eve and her mother were never close. This theme is explored throughout the series. So when Sandra comes to Eve looking for help “for a friend” Eve knows there has to be more to the story. Sure enough, there is no “friend”, the situation Sandra describes hits much closer to home. A woman named Beth has been in a hospital for over a decade. Kept drugged into a near-catatonic state. Except now she’s missing. How does a woman who’s been essentially asleep for over 10 years suddenly disappear? And, how is Eve’s mother involved?

Well, I won’t spoil anything for you but suffice it to say that Beth has a very close connection to Eve and her mother. Furthermore, she left the hospital because she knew her life was in danger. Of course this raises more questions than answers. Why would anyone want to kill a near-comatose woman? And why now, after 10 years of constant care?

Eve sets out to find answers. Helping her are her significant other, Joe, who appears in many of the books. And a new character named Kendra. Kendra is a very interesting character. She has a unique skill that I found very refreshing.  I was thrilled to discover that after this introduction, she stars in her own series of books! I haven’t read any of them yet, but I am going to have to check them out.

But back to the story – in the end, it’s exactly what you would expect. Over a decade ago, Beth saw something she was never meant to see. And some very rich people are willing to do – well – pretty much anything – to make sure she never speaks up about it.

That’s it. Nothing very exciting or original. I think the whole point of the book was to give Eve something to do outside her normal work. But it’s dull, and predictable. And it contains even more than the usual amount of paranormal activity that’s typically found in these books. Frankly, I can do without those segments. Even if you’re a huge fan of Eve Duncan, you can skip Sleep No More and not feel like you’re missing a thing.

“The Art of Wow!”

Edible Arrangements “Today We Celebrate You” Birthday Bouquet

Today We Celebrate You™

$83 at EdibleArrangements.com

(4.75/5)

Pros: Fresh! Colorful,  a unique and thoughtful surprise!

Cons: More?

Last evening I watched my sisters’ car pull in the driveway. I was a little perplexed because we have plans to be together on Sunday to celebrate my birthday, so it was a little unusual for her to pop in unexpectedly.

I’m not one to be coy or humble about my birthday. I love it! After all, it was the day I entered the air-breathing world. How can that  not be a big deal – for anybody – everybody?  And to make mine even sweeter, I was born on my father (Normans’) birthday. Before he passed away in 1993, we had forty-six wonderful birthdays together.

But getting back to my sister. . .I opened the door to see this large, colorful, cellophane-wrapped fruit arrangement held out to me. “Happy Birthday” my sister trilled. How fun! What a wonderful surprise – and two days early – even better! It was so beautiful I honestly didn’t want to open it – but it had  to go through quality-control, right?

Edible Arrangements  could be considered a fruit florist. They create beautiful ‘bouquets’ of seasonal fruit, arranged in a basket, bowl, vase or specialty container. They also create gourmet chocolate-covered fruits – banana slices, pineapple daisies, and of course, strawberries. Is your mouth watering yet?

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries Box Shown: 12 Box

 

As I’ve stated, it was so beautifully arranged and wrapped, I hardly wanted to open it – but we did. Oh yum! Make that – OH YUM AND THEN SOME!

The brightly-colored fruit was fragrant, fresh, tantalizing and inviting. I’m a grape-fiend – liking them cold and snappy, so that was my first selection. Perfect! Next, my second favorite fruit – pineapple – cut in the shape of a daisy and dipped in chocolate. Is this thing real?  🙂 The bouquet looked almost exactly as the one pictured at the top of this review, with slices of honeydew melon, cantaloupe wedges, grapes, pineapple daisies, and strawberries. Each individual piece of fruit, or shish-kabob,  is firmly screwered on a plastic ‘stick’ and wedged into the base.  Suffice it to say, it doesn’t look near as pretty today as it did eighteen hours ago.

Since I had no previous experience with Edible Arrangements I had to do a little research to write this review. Of course, the prices are revealed for all to see. They seem a little steep, but one is really paying more for the uniqueness, than the arrangement itself. They also offer delivery in one of their refrigerated delivery trucks, or you can visit the local shop selecting from ready-made arrangements, or ask for a special creation.  See their website for store locations.

I was pleased to learn they support The Breast Cancer Society and the National Breast Cancer Foundation – both worthy causes.  There’s also some interesting background information about the beginnings of the company. The owners are originally from India. In 1947 ( the year of my birth!) they migrated to America – “the land of new beginnings and opportunity”, which certainly seems to be a prophesy come true for them.

Check out their website to see all the different arrangements they can create for just about every occasion.  Most of us know someone who likes fruit and surprises, making it the perfect gift!

Edible Arrangements
95 Barnes Rd.
Wallingford CT
1-877-DO FRUIT ( 1-877-363-7848)

Disco Strikes Back in 2014: Duck Sauce’s QUACK

Duck Sauce – QUACK

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See it at Amazon 

(3.5/5) decent

Pros: Middle section of this album is great!

Cons: Jokes and gimmicks wind up being disruptive

Sounding a bit like an even more disco-oriented Daft Punk and perhaps most similar on some level to that group’s 1997 debut Homework, NYC-based DJ duo Duck Sauce first gained recognition in 2010 when their goofy but catchy single “Barbra Streisand” came out of nowhere to become a massive worldwide dance hit. Despite this almost instant recognition, the pair behind Duck Sauce (Armand Van Helden and A-Trak, turntablists who’ve both had some level of success as solo artists) took their time producing a debut full-length record, which eventually showed up in the form of 2014’s Quack, released (appropriately?) on the Fool’s Gold Label. Featuring most of the various singles the group has released over the past several years as well as some new tracks, Quack has a ton of catchy melodies and danceable songs, but it has quite a few elements that keep it from greatness.

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Could this be the crowd this music is best suited for?

It’s pretty easy to tell that Duck Sauce don’t take their act entirely seriously, and their album is loaded with jokey skits and interludes that pop up at the end of almost every track. Aside from not being particularly funny (oh HAHAHA: someone just called a Chinese restaurant and ordered as much duck sauce as they would send…), these skits disrupt the flow of the album significantly, which is really unfortunate considering the album that has some serious grooves on it. Compared to the way most dance albums play, with (possibly overlong) tracks that repeat their melodies and beats ad nauseum, Quack has dance tracks that don’t seem long enough. Just when I was really starting to get into the music, there’s a frustrating tendency for Van Helden and A-Trak to end the track prematurely, throw in an unnecessary sound sample, or include a full-on skit. Doing this ruins the vibe of the music, and ultimately the album as well; the disjointed way in which the album plays almost makes it seem like a listener is not supposed to care about any of it. It’s almost as if Quack was released just so other artists could make legitimate dance remixes of these tracks.

A fact that could make or break the album for some is the fact that, like Will Smith, Duck Sauce often create their music by taking older, forgotten pieces of music and “updating” them. Thus, the 1979 disco hit “Gotta Go Home” by Boney M (which itself was a rip-off of a 1973 German-language track by the band Nighttrain) is manipulated and sampled to become “Barbra Streisand,” Melissa Manchester’s 1985 “Energy” is worked into Duck Sauce’s “NRG,” and the chorus and hook from punk band The Members’ 1982 “Radio” shows up in “Radio Stereo.” It’s worth noting that many of today’s musicians “sample” other, previous music, but to cut, copy, and paste the best parts of pre-existing music and call the result a new work seems a stretch to me. Granted, most people won’t recognize the original tracks these melodies and vocal elements came from, so in a way, it’s cool that Duck Sauce shine a light – sort of – on groups and tunes that have been lost to time. Compared to the wholly original work produced by folks like DJ Shadow and The Avalanches however (who use pre-existing music samples to create unique and fascinating pieces that stand on their own), Duck Sauce doesn’t seem to be making new material as much as recycling unknown and/or neglected classic tunes. Different strokes for different folks I guess….

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Duck Sauce performing at this year’s Coachella music festival.

Quack begins with “Chariots of the Gods,” a track which, with its use of many sampled sound effects and dialogue (is that He-Man I hear?), sounds somewhat like DJ Shadow. The main body of the track has a driving and grinding bass and disco beat (elements featured prominently in almost every track on the album) along with string accents and a wah guitar. After a particularly nauseating skit that could perhaps be subtitled as “Zen and the Duck of Art Sauce,” second track “Charlie Chazz & Rappin Ralph” begins with some Daft Punk neo-disco and funk. This track doesn’t really stand as a highlight for me, and though the follow-up“It’s You” has one nifty section of laid-back but screechy, trance-house goodness, the bluesy main vocal part seems out of place and odd. “Goody Two Shoes,” with its straight up 1980’s style Hi NRG rhythms and vocals, is an obvious track that would work in a dance club. The fact that the track just kind of stops after transitioning into a more ballad-like second section though, is disappointing; I really have to question Duck Sauce’s decision to drag some of this album’s best tracks out behind the barn and kill them just when they’re getting good.

“Radio Stereo,” with its sampled sax hook chorus, is both energetic and strangely calming, and the funktastic “aNYway” reminds me of the type of thing you’d see on reruns of Soul Train. The chorus here is fantastic, with a bouncy and chunky bass that makes me wanna move, and the uplifting “NRG” continues the fun vibe of Quack’s middle section. “Everyone” has a bit of a more urgent, somewhat despairing sound to it, providing a respite from the almost absurdly upbeat tracks that had proceeded it. Teddy Toothpick provides the vocals here, and the song seems to combine the best of Duck Sauce’s disco sensibility with the types of ballads heard in modern R&B. “Ring Me” is punchy disco at its best, with saucy female vocals, while the album version of “Barbra Streisand” seems a bit too gimmicky and overproduced, with weird sound elements, samples galore, and computerized vocals thrown in for no good reason. This song worked great on its own, and you have to wonder why there would be a need to really change things up. Worth pointing out that the profanity-filled skit at the conclusion of this track, which features low-pitched, computer-manipulated voices talking back and forth about how they’ll “wow” a woman, is the album’s eye-rolling low point. Why? Just why.

electro then
Electronic music then…

Thankfully, following the skit, Quack unleashes the track here that’s my personal favorite. “Spandex” has a loud, repeating chorus of soulful and harmonic female vocals along with squelchy keyboards and appropriate use of sound effects and samples (I love the distorted “bang it!” cue that leads into the chorus). This is perhaps one of the best examples of 1980s Euro-disco not actually made in the 1980s – just a really cool track that would be great on a dance floor. While it has more classic keyboard work and punchy electronic rhythms, album closer “Time Waits for No One” is predictably cheesy, the type of “poignant” tune one might here during the credits sequence of a particularly hokey ‘80s movie. Lest we not forget what we’ve been listening to, the disc ends with (what else?) duck quacks.

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Electronic music now…

It’s kind of a bummer that Duck Sauce had such a slapdash approach to making their debut album. Quack really has some nice tunes on it, particularly during the middle stretch of the disc which is outstanding. Both the beginning and ending are, in my opinion, somewhat weak, and the constant, annoying skits and interludes used in between every track here just throw off the pace and flow of the disc. I’m not necessarily opposed to using these types of things on an album; when done properly, they can ensure that an album does play as one extended, mostly consistent track. The obnoxious tone of the skits on Quack however, don’t fit when placed in conjunction with the music. If anything, they almost drag the album down to a level where the whole thing plays like a novelty disc instead of an album that is supposed to be taken seriously. In the end then, this is a mixed bag: it has some really great tunes on it but is overproduced; the gimmicks take away from the quality of the music. Still, I’d recommend it to those who enjoy dance music, especially Daft Punk’s brand of peppy neo-disco.

Father Knows Best with Homer Simpson in the LEGO Minifigures: The Simpsons Collection

LEGO Minifigures The Simpsons: Homer Simpson

See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Homer Simpson looks like he just jumped out of the TV screen

Cons: This costs more than the average minifigure series—D’OH!

The announcement that LEGO was focusing its efforts to bring The Simpsons to life for its collection is a marriage made in heaven. For years, many have wondered why such a thing hasn’t happened yet. Given the popularity of The Simpsons, it only made sense. As they say, it’s better late than never. Finally, the citizens of Springfield come to life in that latest LEGO Minifigures collection (unofficially Series 13). Leading the pack is the patriarch of the Simpsons clan, the ever-lovable, doughnut-eating, slightly dimwitted Homer Simpson.

Homer is the perfect father, or at least he thinks so. This is most likely delusions of grandeur on his own part. His many years working at the Springfield Nuclear Plant could have eradicated some brain cells but it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. When he gives sage advice, it sometimes makes sense. My personal favourite is when he tells his kids on the merits of doing their best. In a sense, there’s a reverse Yoda wisdom to it.

“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Homer is outfitted in his familiar white, short-sleeved polo shirt and blue slacks. There is very little detail other than the stencil work to show his shirt’s collar and a simple curved line right over his stomach to showcase his rotund belly. The implication is there even though LEGO could have sculpted a body suited for his manly shape.

But I wasn’t sure how LEGO was going to approach the head piece. Would they utilize the basic LEGO head and add painted details around it or would they sculpt something entirely all new and unique? Thankfully, the latter was chosen. It makes a huge difference. All of Homer’s features are captured perfectly with this new headpiece. It’s bigger than a regular head, as well it should be. In fact it’s these facial sculpts that are going to be the selling point for this collection. There’s no getting around it at all. Also, the yellow skin tone is perfectly suited for LEGO.

He wouldn’t be Homer if he didn’t have two of his favourite things in hand. The first one is a doughnut. It’s really a flat LEGO stud with a painted stencil of a doughnut on one side. The other is the remote controller for his TV, another flat painted brick.

As with previous LEGO Minifigures collections, there are sixteen characters in a series. Each one is blind packaged so there is no way of knowing what character you will be getting. However, be prepared to pay more this series. I didn’t realize it until I was paying up. It usually costs an average of $3.00 for each packaged figure. Instead I found myself paying $4.00 for a Simpsons character. Some place are even selling these for $5.00 each. My guess stems from this being a licensed property versus the generic LEGO characters. It’s also a good indicator as to why LEGO doesn’t sell other licensed characters (ie. Star Wars, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, etc.) in this fashion (or at least not yet). Perhaps this is an indicator if this experiment will work or not.

The LEGO Minifigures: The Simpsons collection is a good way to introduce these characters into the LEGO world. I feel that something like this should have been explored ten years ago but I don’t think it would have had this level of detail. But if Star Wars can be recycled over and over again with new sets, then The Simpsons might have had a good chance back then. It’s just nice to finally see Springfield coming to life.

 

Biochemist T. Colin Campbell’s Latest Book “The Low-Carb Fraud”

The Low-Carb Fraud

low-carb fraud

See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: very well-researched and argued; easy to understand

Cons: very short and not as detailed as previous books
I’m reviewing this little book as a message to President Obama and plan to email it to him as well as make a video while reading the beginning  (and advertising this review on veryhelpful.net, of course!).

Dear President Obama,

On your watch the freedom for Americans to grow their own gardens and raise their own farm animals is tragically becoming a thing of the past, a cherished memory of delicious, fresh food that has made our nation healthy and strong since its founding days. This is disgraceful because you and the First Lady understand the high costs of obesity and childhood diseases caused by a disconnect with food, which results in misunderstanding nutritional needs, malnutrition and eating disorders. I hope you also realize that the majority of Americans are obese and diseased for the same reasons. Banning personal gardening and farming, which eliminates Farmers’ Markets, is another sign of some Americans’ growing disconnect with real, whole food.

Real, whole food is what well-respected biochemist T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University recommends in his celebrated books The China Study, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, and most recently The Low-Carb Fraud. It is a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet or Lifestyle that is 75-80% carbohydrate and 10% or so of both protein and fat that has been proven for sixty years, confirmed by hundreds of peer-reviewed, long-term studies, to make obesity and many diseases part of an American’s past…including medication.

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George McGovern, you may recall, led the government committee in the 1970s on which Campbell assisted that found that Americans should increase their intake of veggies, fruits, and whole grains while decreasing their use of animal products. Campbell explains again in his latest book that there was such an outcry from the meat and dairy industry as well as the confused public that their recommendation was turned into a goal and red meat only limited with added chicken and fish. Campbell had to put up with a recommendation of 30% fat in our diets and that’s little less than what Americans were getting in their diets then. Now after Dr. Robert Atkins’ low-carb diet book was reissued in the 1980s to resounding success and more recently Loren Cordain’s “Paleo” version of the low-carb diet book, and their dozens of spin-offs, the public has largely embraced the idea that high-fat and protein diets are good for you while carbohydrates are bad.

This is a flat lie, Campbell asserts. He once believed that animal fat and protein was of great health benefit to humans when he grew up on a Virginia farm, but his story was only beginning. Becoming a biochemist he needed to find the most effective, accessible protein for starving, impoverished people and his studies in the lab and through research and observation of the Chinese people for a decade led to the surprising discovery that plant protein is much more beneficial to human health. Campbell summarizes his five decade-long career, scientific findings, recommendations, criticisms of and agreements with low-carb promoters in The Low-Carb Fraud, but a much more detailed explanation may be found in his earlier books. I’ve only enjoyed Whole so far, also co-written with Howard Jacobsen PhD. (They are shown below).

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President Obama, you are highly educated and intelligent, a family man who wants the best of health for our children to ensure our fitness as a nation in the future, but you are letting the American public and the watching world down. As an elected, top official you need to lead all of us to greater understanding of our world based on irrefutable science and long-term, unbiased, clinical studies. Campbell shows us how flawed and often ludicrous are the health claims of low-carb advocates, none of which are proven by unbiased scientists. Our future is at stake as long as we allow unchecked obesity and disease to create spiraling “healthcare” costs. Subsidies of animal products are blatantly unsustainable and need to be a thing of the past rather than personal gardens and farms. You don’t want to act as foolishly as your science-hating predecessor, I’m sure.

On a personal note my diet has been for about a dozen years very similar to the one Campbell strongly recommends, that being a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet, and I’ve never been more healthy, looked more radiant without the need of make-up, or felt so alert and energetic. I’m hardly the only American who enjoys a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet and a revolution will occur if our freedom to our own food is further eroded. Thank you for attending to these concerns.

Sincerely, Jan Peregrine

 

Affordable “Vertical” Mouse Helps Maintain Wrist and Hand Health

Lugulake Vertical Ergonomic Optical “Stress-Relieving” Mouse

Lugulake mouseSee it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Remarkably low price ($9.99). On-screen “tracking” is smooth and precise. Left/right buttons are easy-to-click and not unduly noisy. Smooth scroll wheel works well and operates familiarly (unlike the competing “3M” model that I’ll compare below).

Cons: As with a traditional, non-ergonomic mouse (but unlike the competing 3M model), there’s no built-in “palm rest.” Hence the edge of your palm and pinkie can loosely drag across the tabletop.

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UPDATE (AS OF 10/02/2014):

Feel free to disregard my above and below praise of this product . This product stopped functioning about a week ago; in other words, it only worked a few months before failing. Too bad, because it had become my most regularly used mouse.

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A couple of months ago my normally negligible carpal-tunnel-syndrome symptoms flared up rather worrisomely in my wrists and fingers. Hence – in addition to becoming increasingly acquainted with Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-recognition software – I began seeking not only an “ideal” ergonomic keyboard but also the “perfect” ergonomic mouse. That quest led to my ending up with an assortment of three ergo keyboards and (so far) three ergo mice. I don’t regret this, for it’s nice to occasionally switch between this or that mouse (or keyboard) and thereby enjoy a bit of variety. [Fortunately, in more recent weeks my carpal-tunnel symptoms have once again largely subsided to their usual, longstanding “negligible” or “unnoticeable” level.]

The primary objective of any respectably designed ergonomic mouse is to prevent the “pronation” of the forearm/wrist (as occurs when using a traditional mouse). You can do your own googling on the “health” implications of such pronation; for present purposes, suffice it to say that it’s more healthful to grip a PC mouse as you would when conventionally shaking hands with another person.

Lugulake mouse 2
“Side” view!

 

I ordered the subject of this review, the Lugulake Vertical Ergonomic Mouse, via Amazon.com for $9.99. [Since this was a “fulfilled-by-Amazon” order, “Prime” shipping was free.] At that price point, this product basically constitutes the most affordable “vertical” ergo mouse available. [Note that this model isn’t available in a left-hand version. (I myself am right-handed.) Moreover, it’s only available as a “wired” USB, not a wireless, mouse. By contrast, the other two competing products that I’ll compare below are wireless.]

But is it worth the money? I think so. During the past month I’ve alternately used this mouse and the following two competing products: the 3M Wireless Ergonomic Mouse [in the so-called “Small” size, which correctly fits my “large” – but not “extra-large”– adult-male hand]; and the fairly ergonomic Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse [included in my “Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop” keyboard/number-pad/mouse bundle]. Considering that the “Sculpt” mouse is configured such that it isn’t as nearly “vertical” as either the “3M” or “Lugulake” alternative (which suggests that that Microsoft mouse only partially prevents pronation), I’m inclined to rank it in third place (behind those other two ergo mice, neither of which is necessarily the “best” ergo/vertical-mouse product available). Frankly, though, I’m still not sure whether the “3M” mouse or this “Lugulake” mouse should be ranked in first place, for both entail not only advantages but also disadvantages.

Whereas the 3M mouse lets me rest the right edge of my palm upon the integrated “base” of the mouse, this Lugulake mouse incorporates no such “palm/finger-rest,” which means the right edge of my palm – and the right edge of my pinkie – freely drag across the surface of my desk’s keyboard tray. [Of course, that’s likewise the case with your typical “traditional” mouse.] Arguably, this is a point in favor of the 3M mouse; however, the the latter’s half-inch-tall “palm rest” causes your forearm to be elevated marginally higher than is the case with this Lugulake mouse. That extra degree of forearm elevation might not be as ergonomically beneficial.

Moreover, unlike this Lugulake mouse’s more conventionally configured, separate “left” and “right” buttons, the 3M mouse’s left-button and right-button functions are activated via a single, concave, “rocking” button that you operate with your thumb tip instead of your fingers.

Lugulake mouse competitor 2
The competing “3M” ergonomic mouse

 

Also, whereas the 3M mouse’s joystick-like (but actually non-pivoting) handle incorporates a second, auxiliary left-side button that your “curled” middle finger must squeeze (toggle) in order to activate/deactivate the upward/downward “scrolling” function, this Lugulake mouse implements a more conventionally positioned wheel that your largely “extended” middle finger can familiarly manipulate. Arguably, this is a point in favor of this Lugulake mouse; the majority of users – habituated to traditional mice – will likely find it easier to adapt to the latter approach for scrolling.

Furthermore, I find it slightly easier to manipulate – and precisely position – the on-screen cursor via this Lugulake mouse than with the 3M mouse. Doubtless many users will deem this no small point in favor of the Lugulake product over the 3M alternative.

Whereas this Lugulake mouse costs just 10 dollars, the competing 3M mouse normally costs 60 [but I got mine as a “Like New” used specimen for only 30 bucks via “Amazon Warehouse”]. Accordingly, if you’d like to try a “vertical” ergonomic mouse, you could hardly go wrong with this eminently affordable Lugulake model.

During any fairly lengthy session of PC use, I myself tend to switch intermittently between this Lugulake and the 3M alternative. That provides the thumb and fingers (not to mention the wrist) a further measure of beneficial, “multi-positional” variety.

Given the low price point of this made-in-China product, I can easily tolerate the lack of any separate “user manual” inside the product box. However, that box itself includes enough printed text to suffice – despite the text having been composed by someone whose “non-native” grasp of English amuses me [here’s a sample to prove my point]:

“RELIEVE YOUR STRESS. This mouse is a proactive one that avoids the annoying sweat of the fingers, the tension and pressure of certain parts of the arm and hand that are typical of a reduces work shifts in an office or factory, and it’s also suitable or game addicts and the other technology freaks.”

“How Am I Supposed to Answer You? I’m Dead” PITFALL

PITFALL

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See the Teshigahara Box Set at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Photography and visuals; soundtrack; thought-provoking

Cons: Too dense, slow-moving, and ambiguous for many

Described as a “documentary fantasy” by its director, 1962’s Pitfall (the feature film debut of director Hiroshi Teshigahara from a script by famed novelist/playwright Kobo Abe) takes place in an almost hellish landscape and follows the tale of a down-on-his-luck miner and his young, mute son. After leaving one hopeless mining job in favor of other opportunities, the miner receives an offer of potentially lucrative employment and heads off to the job site. On his way there however, he’s brutally attacked and murdered by an unknown assassin. Returning to life as a ghost, the miner proclaims that he’s going to solve his own murder at which point, he’s (rightfully) advised by another undead being that doing this will only result in his suffering. The miner’s search for the truth indeed turns out to be more difficult one than expected, as his murder winds up involving a pair of rival labor unions and a shopkeeper that witnessed the murder who’s been paid off by the killer to hide his identity. The unraveling plot here is rather dense, and like subsequent Teshigahara films like the acclaimed Woman in the Dunes from 1964 as well as 1966’s The Face of Another (both written by Abe), Pitfall never quite reveals all its secrets, playing out in a very ambiguous manner. Ultimately, this slow-moving but captivating film could be read in any number of ways, and it’s exactly the type of film that would thrill the art house crowd.

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A strong visual sense is perhaps the film’s best asset.

Photographed in high-contrast black and white by Hiroshi Segawa, who worked closely with the director, this film is positively stunning to look at. Much of the film (appropriately) has a very drab, dirty, and downtrodden look to it, and the white colors in the film (which universally seem to sear the screen in the way they’re captured on camera) have their own connotation that’s indicative of an inevitable conflict with fate. Teshigahara utilizes all sorts of experimental techniques to both throw off the viewer to an extent and make the piece incredibly interesting from a visual standpoint. Included here are unique styles of fades that hint at the various character’s mindsets, expressive camera movements (which culminate in a memorable tracking shot during the film’s conclusion) and a truly innovative hard editing style that positions the viewer right in the midst of the action. Frequently, the editing style of Fusako Shuzui seems a bit jarring, but the choice of camera angles and takes (often transitioning from extreme long shots showing panoramic views of the characters’ actions on a macroscopic scale to tight close-ups that convey the emotions written on their faces) expertly relates the ideas that Teshigahara wants to get across to the viewer.

The entire mood of this film is rather dark and distressing: nothing pleasant happens at any point and the barren landscapes seem to replicate the sense of loneliness that exists in the mindset of the characters. All of the people here seem to have little connection to the world around them, perhaps most evident in the young boy who witnesses his father’s violent murder yet seems unfazed by his death. There’s also a definite edge of surrealism present in the picture: witness the seemingly unrelated images of ants swarming over a plate of bread, the moment (represented onscreen by playing a sequence in reverse) when the miner suddenly returns to life as a ghost, or a complex moment when two ghosts circle around two humans interacting with the dead body of one of the ghosts. I’d also have to say that the violence that exists in the film also plays out in a manner consistent with surrealism. The murder of the miner becomes a sort of avant-garde ballet played out in a mud bog, and an underplayed scene in which the young boy rips a frog apart is a definitive shock moment both gross and undeniably intriguing.

ants
What would a surrealist film be without ants?

Considering that this film never actually declares its purpose or in the end, settles anything, it’s entirely up to the viewer to detect underlying themes relating to man’s propensity towards violence (most noticeable in the story about a pair of rival union leaders who resort to violence after each suspects the other man of plotting his demise) and corporate greed (in the material relating to a union being pressured to comply with harsh company demands or face extermination). One could also derive some sort of commentary on the ways in which humans have distanced themselves from those around them, an idea that has perhaps become all the more relevant in today’s society. The imagery in this film could quite honestly be analyzed almost indefinitely, and in this way, Pitfall is very similar to Teshigahara’s next and most famous film Woman in the Dunes, a piece which takes many of the ideas included in Pitfall and refines them.

Acting here is fairly low key but top-notch, with Hisashi Igawa doing a fine job in what is probably the film’s only major role as the miner on a search for an elusive and quite possibly confounding truth. In smaller roles, Sumie Sasaki plays the self-absorbed female shopkeeper who witnessed the miner’s murder and Kunie Tanaka (star of many a samurai and Yakuza film) is menacing and business-like as the mysterious assassin. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kazuo Miyahara who makes a strong impression as the miner’s son, even if he doesn’t speak a word throughout the piece. Miyahara’s character in many ways is a sort of ghost himself, existing in the periphery of the story and quietly watching what takes place. One could make an argument that the film in a bigger sense is more about his character than any other. The action in the story plays out to a wonderfully eccentric soundtrack created by experimental composer Toru Takemitsu that features jarring outbursts of discordant tones and lots of strange sounds. It’s the perfect accompaniment to this undeniably bizarre but mesmerizing film.

deep
One of many shots featuring stunning, deep-focus photography

In the end, much as might be expected from Teshigahara, Pitfall stands as a piece that would fascinate those who appreciate thought-provoking art movies and utterly frustrate just about everyone else. This isn’t so much an entertainment film as one which prompts a viewer to think long and hard about what he’s just seen. Certainly, it could simply be taken as a weird story about ghosts trying to solve their own murders in the human world, but there’s definitely more to this film than what exists on the surface. The problem for many viewers would be that it offers up precious few answers to any of the questions it poses. In ways, it’s not at all difficult to determine that this was a debut feature: it has some issues with tone, consistency, and pacing and the fact that the film introduces then quickly drops some of its many subplots is indicative of the fact that the director and writer were experimenting and developing their style as they went along. Despite a few missteps though, the technical genius on display and strong visual sense are enough for me to recommend it to adventurous viewers. Get ready to face a complicated puzzle and you’ll probably enjoy this singular work.

disc deets
Released by the Criterion Collection as part of the four-disc Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara box set (with Woman in the Dunes and Face of Another). Pitfall is presented in its original full-frame version, in Japanese with English subtitles. The print had a few noticeable digital artifacts, but generally looks fantastic. Included as a bonus feature on the Pitfall disc is a video essay by film critic James Quandt, which discusses the various motifs in the picture. While this individual disc is pretty decent by itself, the Teshigahara box set is an extremely well-done package.

blood and guts
5/10 : A violent murder by stabbing, including some brief shots of gore, as well as views of dead bodies exhibiting fatal wounds. Also, a random act of aggression towards a (real) frog.

smack talk
5/10 : A decent amount of harsh language in the subtitled dialogue including some strong, four-letter profanity.

fap factor
3/10 : A woman scuttling around onscreen in a flimsy nighty, and an implied rape scene. No nudity.

whack attack
6/10 : The art-house crowd would enjoy this one, but it wouldn’t be to the taste of the typical cult film aficionado.

GI JOE
Thought of the day: “Must a man become a demon just to survive?”

This trailer provides a good idea of what to expect (NSFW-ish):

Move over candy bars

Balance Bar – Nutrition Bar For Lasting Energy

Balance Bar, Peanut Butter, 6 - 1.76 oz Bars per Box

(4.5/5)

Pros: Great flavor, convenient, nutritious

Cons: Has an ‘after-taste’ – but not unpleasant, coating melts fairly quickly on your fingers

DISCLAIMER: This product review is not intended as a diagnosis of any condition, nor as a prescription for any condition.

Some medical professionals would argue that ‘hypoglycemia’ is not a valid physical condition. Since both my physician and I suffer from this low blood-sugar metabolic disorder, we would definitely argue that point. The good news is that it’s almost completely manageable if one is willing to adhere to a  pattern of eating small, nutritionally balanced meals at frequent intervals. If I don’t, I can suffer the bobble-headed weemy-jeemies, headache, confusion, nausea, and occasionally, extreme sleepiness. Been there, done that more times than I can count – and it’s not fun!

Rule No. 1: Never be without food close at hand. Keep something in your car, handbag, sports bag or wherever. Crackers and peanut butter, cheese and crackers are a couple of good choices, candy bars, soft drinks and other sugar-laden ‘foods’ are not. Oh sure, they’ll ‘work’ in a dire pinch, but they’ll repay you by causing a ‘spike and dump’ reaction of your blood-sugar – and the cycle starts all over again.

Balance Bars are such an asset in helping offset the symptoms of my hypoglycemic episodes. Interestingly, it’s not how high or low your blood-sugar rises or drops – it’s how fast. Sometimes, if I’ve been unable to get something to eat,  I can feel the changes in my cognizance virtually from one minute to the next.  Balance Bars support a 40-30-30 ratio of carbohydrates ( 40%); protein (30%) and fat (30%), the perfect answer when I feel my blood-sugar dropping.

Having said all this –  Balance Bars aren’t just for those with blood-sugar issues. They were created in 1992 by a team of sports enthusiasts and scientists in Santa Barbara, California, to help support and energize athletes and sports-minded people who need a little ‘pump-up’ on the trail or track.

Dark Chocolate Crunch

Ingredients:

  • Protein blend of soy protein Isolate
  • Whey protein
  • Partially hydrolyzed milk protein
  • Calcium fructose
  • Glucose syrup
  • Partially de-fatted peanut flour
  • Peanut Butter
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil
  •  Palm Kernel Oil

Nutrition per 1.76 oz. bar

  • Calories  200
  • Fat  7g.
  • Cholesterol  0g.
  • Sodium  170 mg.
  • Protein 15g.
  • Sugar 17g.

Flavors:  Peanut Butter, Cookie Dough, Yogurt Honey Peanut, Double Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Coconut

I purchase Balance Bars at Wal*Mart for $5.87 per 6-count box.  Less than the price of any candy bar.

Balance Bar Co.
Ronkonkoma, NY  11779
1-800-346-2194

Full of “Sensuality and the Vigor of Sadism,” THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA is Trashtastic!

THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA

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Streaming at Amazon 

(3/5) decent

Pros: So bad, it’s a hoot

Cons: Many. Oh so many.

Confused and poorly made by any conventional standard, the Italian-made 1960 horror film The Vampire and the Ballerina (also known as L’amante del Vampiro) probably is most interesting today for being one of director Renato Polselli’s earliest features. Polselli would later gain some level of recognition among shock film aficionados for his deliciously perverted 1972 horror/mystery Delirio Caldo, known in its English-language version simply as Delirium, but a viewer would be hard pressed to spot any serious talent behind the camera in the Ballerina film. The script, written by Polselli along with Ernesto Gastaldi and Giuseppe Pellegrini, makes nary a lick of sense at any point and comes across as being a tiresome retread of territory covered many times before in far-superior genre films. In the end, while The Vampire and the Ballerina is a definite curio and a film that’s enjoyable for precisely the wrong reasons, it’s not something that most people would have any interest in seeing.

The film deals with a dance troupe who have inexplicably chosen to relocate to a remote European estate in order to practice their routines. After learning about the area’s vampire myths, two of the blonde dancers named Francesca and Luisa (played respectively by an overly hysterical Tina Gloriani and a sluggish Helene Remy) and their unlikely Lothario of a male companion Luca (played by a goofy Iscaro Ravaioli) stumble upon a supposedly abandoned castle that’s actually the home of a knockout Countess (the busty Maria Luisa Ronaldo, who reminds me a bit of Barbara Steele) and her shady manservant Herman. Wouldn’t you know it that Herman is actually a vampire, attacking local women and draining their blood in order to rejuvenate both himself and the Countess. Though Francesca suspects something is not quite right with the Countess, it’s Luisa who winds up in the worst situation, and the inevitable vampire attack leaves her as a sort of somnambulist who is under the influence of the fiend who drank her blood. Following the attack, Francesca launches a campaign to rally the fellow dancers and the handful of men at the estate against the Countess and her vampire companion, but as she ventures closer to the brink of madness, will anyone believe her?

fangs
“…And it’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight…”

Filmed in gorgeous black and white by cinematographer Angelo Baistrocchi, The Vampire and the Ballerina looks fantastic and boasts wonderful interior sets used to detail the expansive interior of the Countess’ castle. Unfortunately, none of these characters or the ongoing action in the story make any sense from a logical standpoint. It’s almost as if the trio of writers just passed the script back and forth, picking and choosing vampire film conventions to play around with while throwing consistency and character motivation in the loo. Literally, the moods of various people in this film changes from second to second, which is never more evident than in a scene where Francesca first tells her fellow dancers about the suspected vampire who’s attacked Luisa. Within ten seconds, the sense of worry disappears as the dancers forget about the potential danger they’re in and instead begin performing an impromptu “interpretive dance” based on the story of a vampire attacking a young woman. Additionally, the script reaches a level of incoherence usually reserved for a Lucio Fulci film when a young woman is buried alive even though (since there’s a see-through window in the coffin she’s lying in) she peers and screams at the gravediggers as they are throwing dirt down on top of her. If I didn’t know any better, I might almost say that the writers of this film suffered from short-term memory loss since they seem completely incapable of ensuring that any single scene plays through in a consistent manner: there’s always something that comes out of the blue to alleviate any building suspense, drama, or creepiness.

From a purely technical standpoint, Vampire and the Ballerina is a mess. Even in its original, Italian-language print that I saw, the film has been dubbed – like many Italian genre films of the 1960s, it was filmed without sound and had the audio added in post-production. Thus, the problems typically associated with dubbed prints of foreign-produced genre films exist even in the original version of this film – the voice acting not only makes the performances seem laughably bad, but also is so poorly synched up to the picture that it becomes difficult to take any of it seriously. The film reaches a low point when Francesca finds herself alone in a dark and dank crypt. Presumably, this scene would have been one of the obvious “scary movie” sequences, yet curiously there’s no spooky music to set the mood. Worse though is the fact that actress Tina Gloriani is mainly seen sitting motionless against an earthen wall for most of the scene while excruciatingly loud gasps, screams, and wails echo on the soundtrack. The voice is completely out of place for what we’re actually seeing onscreen (Gloriani’s mouth barely moves, let alone contorts in a manner that suggests that she’s screaming), and the result is that this scene, one of the few in the picture that really had the potential to be somewhat eerie, is more ludicrous than scary.

regis
…And then there was the day Regis skipped the makeup trailer…

And then there’s actor Walter Brandi, who appears in the film playing the role of Herman the vampire. Though Herman typically looks like a normal, middle-aged guy, when he hasn’t fed on human blood for awhile, he transforms into a being that resembles an extremely haggard Regis Philbin, with unconvincing plastic fangs, gangly, swollen hands, and a mop of shaggy hair. In contrast to the quiet and restrained Herman, the vampire can do little except go into lengthy monologues about how he’s the “master of the world” and finish every stretch of dialogue by cackling maniacally while whipping his head to and fro.

Arguably one of the strangest elements of this film (which is saying something) is the music score by Aldo Piga which frequently seems completely inappropriate. The film features several completely absurd, misplaced dance routines which typically play out to some jaw-dropping, inappropriate music (subtle, classical ballet melodies one second, blaring burlesque tunes the next). Furthermore, this may be the only film in history in which a possibly suspenseful chase scene is accompanied by honest-to-goodness stripper music playing on the soundtrack. All in all, the unexpected soundtrack cues, moody photography, not-so-subtle eroticism, and surreal touches provided by the disjointed storyline nearly allow this film to play as a demented arthouse production.

dance
Gotta love any flick with gratuitous, spontaneous dance numbers!

To most viewers, this film would play as the low-budget Eurotrash that it quite obviously is. As much as viewers could say what they want about it though, they never could call this film dull. There’s plenty of insanity going on here, and it compares favorably to films from this period made by the more “acclaimed” director Jess Franco. The Vampire and the Ballerina wouldn’t be something that many or indeed most people could appreciate, but if you get a kick out of films that are “so bad they’re good,” this not-altogether-coherent film that’s nonetheless strangely enjoyable might be worth tracking down.

disc deets
I saw this On Demand in a nice-looking, full-screen, Italian-language print with English subtitles. While it hasn’t been released on video, it is available streaming from amazon.

blood and guts
4/10 : Pretty minimal throughout much of the film, with only a few bloodless vampire attacks. A goopy ending gives it some punch however.

smack talk
1/10 : Some fairly mild suggestive dialogue; pretty clean overall.

fap factor
3/10 : Heaving cleavage galore, nice-looking women prancing around in leotards, some lesbian overtones. No nudity, but definite cheesecake value.

whack attack
8/10 : It’s strange and stupid, the kind of thing that’s tailor made for cult film fanatics.

GI JOE
Contradictory dialogue in action: “There, you are a monster again. Just a hideous monster. And I still need you. You are hideous…”

“I Don’t Have a Vendetta, She Just Pisses Me Off…” FMW – TORN TO SHREDS

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: TORN TO SHREDS

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See it at Amazon 

(2/5) MEH

Pros: The positively brutal Kudo vs Shark match
Cons: Near-worthless undercard

Torn to Shreds, the sixth volume in TokyoPop Home Video’s series of Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling compilations, takes a different approach than that of the previous entries, standing as an entry that could either be a highlight of the series or a definitive low point. The FMW promotion was started in Japan in 1989 and quickly became infamous for its habit of sanctioning violent stipulation matches involving barbed wire, various weapons, and even explosives. This style of “garbage wrestling” brought the promotion instant notoriety, and was mimicked by several other organizations, perhaps most notably by the renegade American promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) which popped up in the mid-to-late 1990s. Though FMW was mostly unknown domestically and extremely obscure for years, TokyoPop’s video series (released in the early 2000s) allowed American viewers to experience what separated this promotion from any of the well-known American federations, but even if the levels of violence seen in FMW matches was unheard of in the 1990s, the actual wrestling on display frequently seemed sloppy and tiresome. Generally speaking, though these FMW DVDs were frequently eye-opening, they wouldn’t appeal to those interested strictly in scientific, technical wrestling.

Torn to Shreds focuses exclusively on the FMW women’s division, featuring seven match illustrating that Japanese female wrestlers did in fact wrestle and weren’t simply on hand to provide a T&A show for the viewer. Having said that though, it’s safe to say that most of these women wrestlers are not what I would call skilled technicians. A few of the big name performers in FMW clearly knew their way around the “squared circle,” but the women featured on the undercard look buffoonish as they perform repetitive, underwhelming moves and craft matches that barely sustain a viewer’s interest. Six matches here are from a December 22, 1995 card at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, with the final one from a September 1996 show at the same venue. Combined with the atrocious commentating (provided by John Watanabe and Eric Geller, who still pull out the worst, most puerile “jokes” imaginable while making up blatantly inaccurate stories about the wrestlers featured in the program), the lackluster wrestling action ensures that overall, this program is perfectly forgettable, with only one match that could definitively be labeled as being outstanding.

kudo
Kudo in what appears to be a barbed wire, baking soda bloodbath match…

Here’s the match rundown and descriptions:

1. Chikayo Nagashima and Chihiro Nakano vs. Aki Kanbayashi and Sonoko Kato – Featuring a plethora of wrestlers either performing in their first FMW match or in fact making their pro wrestling debut, this match turns out to be the amateurish rumble that would be expected. There’s brawling right out of the gate after some extremely awkward pre-match interviews in which most of the competitors looked scared to death. Subsequent repetitious moves (which suggest that each lady here only learned a handful of moves in anticipation of this contest) don’t make it all that exciting. Despite the presence of some rough action late in the going, with women jumping in and leaving the ring continuously, I’d call the bout insignificant. One and a half stars.

2. “Bomber” Hikaru vs. Miwa Sato – As I’ve pointed out time and again, Sato is arguably the least talented feature performer in FMW. This woman found herself involved in serious feuds (mainly with the popular duo of Combat Toyoda and Megumi Kudo), but simply couldn’t handle herself in the ring. Her matches were garbage, and here she flounders through another one with the technically proficient Hikaru. Sato uses a towel to whip her opponent, and (somewhat amusingly) winds up biting Hikaru’s arms and even fingers – that’s the extent of her offense through a large portion of the match. A moment where Hikaru bench-presses Sato and unceremoniously dumps her over the top ropes pretty much says it all, perhaps an indication of Hikaru’s frustration level in performing with an opponent who simply couldn’t hang with her. After a dumb buildup towards the finale (in which, again, Sato utilizes no technical maneuvers whatsoever), the match graciously ends. One and a half stars mainly due to Hikaru’s performance.

neck
“One dislocated spine coming right up!”

3. Kaori Nakayama & Yukari Ishikawa vs. Hiroumi Sugo & Kanako Motoya – Quick tags and beatdowns all around in this energetic, fast-paced contest featuring some of the more technically sound women wrestlers who weren’t quite up to main event level at this point in their careers. I’m not sure I’d buy the announcers’ declaration that this is a demonstration of the “grace” of women’s wrestling, but there’s no doubt these performers are a step up from what was seen previously on this DVD. As was the case with the previous match, the buildup towards the finale is somewhat weak, butI did like the close-range moonsault performed by Nakayama after she’s launched in the air by her teammate. Nothing special I suppose, but it’s decent. Two and a half stars.

4. “Bad Nurse” Nakamura vs. Chigusa Nagayo – Barely a minute long, this “barbed wire bat match” isn’t so much a contest as a plot device used to detail the ongoing feud between the FMW wrestlers and “invaders” from other promotions. Mainly, the bout consists of a tug of war between the two combatants over the use of the bat, and once this struggle is concluded, the match is over within a matter of seconds – without the use of the weapon. What’s the point? No stars.

awkward
Awkward photo op of the day!

5. Combat Toyoda vs. Kaoru – A sort of grudge match taking place after Kaoru was refused entry into the “Women’s Wrestling School, Class of 1986 Reunion Match” as featured on the previous FMW volume. These two women mainly exchange submission holds throughout the early parts of the match, a style of fighting that’s appreciated in Japan but (especially for those used to American wrestling) seems rather lazy and boring. Lowpoint of the contest involves the women just sitting in a scissor lock for minutes at a time – is this supposed to be a wrestling match or a subliminal attempt at making lesbian erotica? In any case, it’s a grueling contest once it does get going, with the more powerful Toyoda just beating down her smaller, more technically-based opponent. Both these women take some pretty serious abuse to their spine – check out the sheer number of back drops that take place. It’s slower-paced for sure, but this turns out to be a fairly entertaining match if one can sit tight for a while. Three and a half stars.

6. Megumi Kudo vs. Shark Tsuchiya – Here we have a main event, barbed wire death match between two bona fide arch-rivals in which the ring ropes have been replaced with razor wire. The extremely popular Kudo is sort of the glamour queen of FMW, while Shark is a dirty player if there ever was one, using weapons and outside interference to claim victory. Considering Kudo’s reputation, some might be shocked to see her in as brutal and bloody a match as this one: she bleeds profusely from the head after being ripped up by the barbed wire. By the end of the match, her once white costume is stained with blood and listening to her scream as she’s brutalized by Shark is a bit unsettling. Shark, as would be expected, uses a barbed wire-covered baseball bat and even a sickle to assault Kudo, at one point slamming her repeatedly onto a table which refuses to break. Just when all seems lost for Kudo, the cheers of the fans start to give her some life…This match is brutal, and a fine demonstration of what truly separates FMW from most of the “extreme” wrestling one might see in the United States. It’s also worth noting that, unlike some FMW matches where the violence occurred seemingly “just because,” this one features great psychology, buildup and tension. Four stars.

bad nurse
Aftermath of a Hair vs. Hair match

7. Shark Tsuchiya and Miss Mongol vs. Megumi Kudo and Kaori Nakayama – Occurring some nine months after the previous contest, this technical bout pits the hard-nosed team of Shark and the powerful Miss Mongol against Kudo and her would-be successor Nakayama. Typically for this style of tag team match, it’s Nakayama who takes a beating early at the hands of her opponents (check out the spine-compressing monkey flip where Shark launches Nakayama right onto her tailbone – OUCH!), with Kudo desperately trying to get the “hot tag” to get in the ring and clean house. I’m not sure anyone would buy the fact that the petite Kudo would really have a chance against the big and burly Shark and Mongol, but that’s the magic of pro wrestling, isn’t it? In any case, this one features some nifty Lucha Libre style high flying moves, including several leaps out of the ring, and some definitive power displays from both Shark and Mongol. I’d call it a decent but somewhat unexceptional match. Three stars.

fireball
And this is why fans love to hate the Shark…

Perhaps one of the only honest-to-goodness positive things about Torn to Shreds is that this volume represents the final time that TokyoPop would utilize the abysmal “humorous” format in their FMW programs. Starting with the next volume, the FMW series would feature a “straight-up,” factual presentation, thus making it possible (for the first time) to actually take these FMW DVDs seriously.

The main problem I faced when viewing Torn to Shreds (aside from having to sit through the endless potty jokes, goofy facial expressions on the part of the announcers, and trash level video production during the intro sequences) was the simple fact that these matches weren’t generally hard-hitting enough for my taste. Having been brought up in the style of rough and tumble “stunt wrestling” that ECW was doing in the mid-1990s, watching these women attempt to pull off moves without really committing to the performance was simply unconvincing and frequently cheesy. Though the final three matches here were decent, only the Kudo vs. Shark match was anything truly worth getting excited about and the program highlighted plenty of downright sloppy wrestling. In the end then, this DVD seems light in action overall and is undeniably one of the weakest entries in the FMW video series. Fans of Japanese wrestling might get a kick out of it on some level, but I’d recommend starting an examination of FMW elsewhere.

disc deets
Decent quality full-frame disc from Tokyo Pop features the option to watch the matches either with or without the English-language commentary. Honestly, it may be better to listen to the Japanese announcing regardless of one’s ability to understand Japanese. There’s also wrestler bios and a (supremely goofy and VERY Japanese) video portrait of wrestler Megumi Kudo that features a sense of self-importance missing from most American wrestling video promos as well as gratuitous bikini and crotch shots. Huzzah! Also, a bonus match:
Megumi Kudo, Combat Toyoda, and Kaori Nakayama vs. Shark Tsuchiya, “Bad Nurse” Nakamura, and Miwa Sato – A 22-minute match cut down to 2.5 minutes that resembles a car crash compilation since most of what we see is women colliding with one another. Impossible to gauge the flow of the match; this “bonus” is just a waste. No stars.

blood & guts
6/10 : Generally, these matches are fairly restrained, however the barbed wire death match here is extremely bloody and graphic. As per the case with all these FMW DVDs, this one might not be appropriate for sensitive viewers.

smack talk
3/10 : Lousy and inappropriate humor galore, with a few minor cuss words thrown in for good measure.

fap factor uhhhh
0/10 : Witness the invention of the “crooked clam hold…” as women in tight spandex rub against one another for an hour and a half…

whack attack
7/10 : Not only is it Japanese wrestling that sometimes resorts to the ol’ ultraviolence, this volume also features women doing all of said wrestling!

GI JOE
Highlight of the commentary: “…she looks like a beached sea tortoise in danger of dehydration…”