“Car 54” is my Insomnia Enabler

Car 54, Where Are You?

Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne as Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon in front of Car 54Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne as Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon

Buy Season 1 ($24.61) and Season 2 ($23.38) at Amazon

[Rating: 5/5]

Pros: You can let your kids watch Car 54! There isn’t any adult language or violence. Sexual situations, if any, are hinted at. You can all laugh together!

Cons: I can’t find any at all.

Some people will rarely admit to watching some silly things on TV when sleep escapes them. I am not one of those people. I’m proud that I discovered my old, silly favorite, Car 54, Where Are You?, nestled between The Honeymooners and The Phil Silvers Show (originally aired under the title You’ll Never Get Rich).

Most people who watch these old shows (like my brother) on YouTube brag that they can watch snippets of them whenever they want on their computers or tablets. I don’t understand chasing down 10 and 15-minute segments of shows online when you can watch the entire show on a large screen, and not lose continuity. Watching on a full-size TV screen also makes it easier to see facial expressions. You can always use your computer, tablet, or smart phone to get guest stars’ names if the credits go by too fast for you.

Loveable Characters
One of the reasons I love Car 54 is the way the characters are written. They’re allowed to be ethnic without exaggeration. The main characters are Officers Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne, who later became famous as Herman Munster) and Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross, who was also featured on You’ll Never Get Rich/Phil Silvers Show). Muldoon is smarter and better educated than Toody, but he doesn’t treat his partner like a putz. The two are squad car partners and friends. Toody is married to Lucille (Beatrice Pons), who often invites bachelor Muldoon to a home-cooked meal. Other officers at the 35rd Precinct in the Bronx include Officer Leo Schnauser (Al Lewis, who later became Grandpa Munster and even ran as a Green Party candidate for Governor of New York in 1998) and his partner, Officer Ed Nicholson (Hank Garrett), and Captain Paul Block (Paul Reed) were in the majority of episodes. Charlotte Rae, who my now-adult kids know as Mrs. Garrett on Facts of Life, played Sylvia Schnauser – wife of Leo Schnauser and nosy confidante to Lucille Toody.

Favorite Episodes
An episode that centered on the cops’ home life was one of my favorites! Titled One Sleepy People, the episode opens with Francis spending the night with the Gunther and Lucille. After dinner, Francis and Lucille watch a spicy TV show while Gunther snores in his favorite chair. The show they watch is about a man who has an affair with his best friend’s wife as the unwitting husband dozes in his favorite chair. Lucille and Francis suddenly believe that each has eyes for the other. Every innocent moment becomes a torrid advance, as Lucille clutches at her faded house dress’ snap closures. If Lucille wore a negligee or low-cut dress, it wouldn’t be as funny. Francis is equally hounded, colliding with Lucille in the kitchen where they both went to escape each other’s “advances.” Lucille runs to Sylvia for advice, but Sylvia is mostly interested in details. The scenes between Lucille and Sylvia are pee-fully funny!

There are three episodes starring Molly Picon, the Helen Hayes of Yiddish Theater. For those who are too young to have seen her in anything but Fiddler on the Roof, Picon was an actor/comedian/singer who was popular in Yiddish Theater and movies for many years prior to a second career as a character actor in English-language productions.

In all three episodes, Picon played Mrs. Bronson, a clever and resourceful Yiddishe Momma. We first meet her in a condemned tenement, where every legal agency in New York has unsuccessfully attempted to serve eviction notices. The demolition crew waits, and construction of a new entrance to the George Washington Bridge is suspended while Toody and Muldoon attempt to reason with Mrs. Bronson. She serves her adversaries tea and cake as she files each notice in the proper location – with all the other notices she ignores.

Mrs. Bronson’s next visit from Toody and Muldoon is at her new home, a hi-rise airy apartment. She brags that she actually slept with a blanket even though it’s August. Of course it’s airy. The building isn’t finished yet! Mrs. Bronson is happily living among the I-Beams and girders that form the skeleton of her abode. When the officers try to convince her that she can’t live there, she responds that her move-in date is August 1 and she has every right to move in.

In her third encounter with law enforcement, Mrs. Bronson takes up professional matchmaking. There isn’t any law against it, but the trouble is that she is matching the bottom-of-the-barrel Bronx singles with the likes of Joan Crawford and Tuesday Weld. Toody and Muldoon visit Mrs. Bronson to explain that she can’t give people false hope. She pulls out a folder filled with cease and desist letters from Joan Crawford’s attorneys as proof of a match in progress. Muldoon points out that all the letters are threats of litigation. Mrs. Bronson isn’t impressed: “You see, Francis, she’s just playing hard to get.”

I can cite so many more episodes that have me go from laughter to tears within a half hour:

  • There’s the hated landlord’s son who needs a minyan (a quorum of ten Jews – at those days, men only) for his Bar Mitzvah, but no one will attend the service because his father is the landlord.
  • Another great episode involves President Kennedy’s motorcade. News footage of a Kennedy motorcade from LaGuardia Airport to the UN Building was inserted for realism. Because of his assassination, the episode only aired once with Kennedy’s image. In reruns, similar footage with President Johnson was substituted.
  • Toody miraculously knows details of crimes scenes, which lands him on the promotion list for detective. However, he’s actually remembering the true crime TV episode he watched the night before. Coincidentally, the thieves based their heists on the same TV show.

Watch, laugh, and make sure you can get to the bathroom on time in case your bladder is like mine.

Want some no-bake donuts? Cool Baker Donut Maker Kit

Cool Baker “Donut Maker” Kit


Pros: nothing else needed except water

Cons: taste, overpriced for what you get

For her last birthday my daughter received the Cool Baker Donut Maker kit. This set is recommended for ages 6 and up. It makes “Delicious No Bake Donuts”. Yup, that’s right – no bake donuts. If your stomach hasn’t already rolled at the thought of a no bake donut, then let’s continue with the review…

The kit comes with everything you need to make 3 mini donuts. It has the donut maker tray, donut press/icing dispenser, bowl, spatula, spoon, icing tips, donut mix, 2 icing mixes and sprinkles. The only thing you need to provide to make the donuts is some water.

The first step is to assemble the dispenser. It is somewhat like a cookie press. To make the donuts simply pour the donut mix into the bowl. Water is added to the mix using the supplied measuring spoon. Stir the mix with the included spatula, the pour the mix into the press. Then, using the press, dispense the mix into the donut tray. There will be just enough mix to fill the three holes for the donuts. Next, put the lid on the tray and place the tray into the refrigerator so that the donuts can rise and set.

While the donuts are in the fridge, wash out all of the tools. You will need to use them again for the icing. To make the icing, simply pour the icing mix in the bowl, add water and mix. You can use the spatula to spread the icing on the donut or put the icing into the press and use an icing tip.

My daughter though this kit was cool when she received it. I was pretty turned off at the thought of a no bake donut. She is 9, and she was able to get everything together pretty much on her own. After we took the donuts out of the refrigerator, we found that they did rise as expected. She used the pink icing to frost all three donuts then put the sprinkles on. I had her wait a little while for the frosting to set because it looked watery. When I gave the go-ahead, she and my son were ready to eat the donuts.

They dove in to eat the donuts, saying “Mmmmm the icing is good”. The donuts were so tiny that they finished them within a couple bites. Then the attitude changed. They started making faces, and my daughter said “That donut was a little slimy”. My son asked for a drink to wash the taste out. The third donut was never eaten.

I looked up this kit and online I found it selling for$15. It’s nice that the set comes with everything you need, but still, 15 bucks is a lot of money for 3 tiny donuts. I could pay $3 for six full sized donuts at DD. I couldn’t stand the thought of a no bake donut, and it turned out that my kids didn’t care for the finished product. I would definitely skip the Cool Baker Donut Maker kit

A Remarkable Story of Human Survival: I AM ALIVE



Pros: Fascinating story; nice dramatizations, interviews, archival materials

Cons: Nothing major

In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (a chartered Fairchild FH-227 carrying 45 passengers, most of whom were members of a rugby team from Uruguay) crashed deep in the Andes mountains between Argentina and Chile. Twelve persons were killed instantly in the crash, in which the pilot of the aircraft, mistakenly believing he had crossed into Chilean airspace, suddenly turned north and headed straight into the mountains. The remaining 33 people found themselves in a desperate bid for survival, ill-equipped for the harsh climate they faced at an altitude of around 12,000 feet and with no mountain training or cold weather gear whatsoever. The harrowing story of the survival of sixteen of the original crash victims was the basis for several books and feature films, with the 2010 History Channel documentary I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash telling the story mainly from the perspective of crash victim Nando Parrado, who led a nearly incomprehensible two-man, 40 mile trek through the heart of the Andes back to civilization. This journey ultimately led to the downright miraculous rescue of the remaining survivors a remarkable some 72 days after the plane went down.

As seems to be the case with many similar programs these days, I Am Alive plays as a docudrama, interspersing interviews with survivors, their family members, and mountaineering experts with a dramatic recreation of the major events of the story. The interview subjects utilized here have good information to contribute to the discussion, providing bits of information about the aircraft itself (this particular model had a horrific safety record), its pilot, the terrain in which the plane went down, and the seemingly insurmountable odds facing the stranded men. Being a bit of a mountaineering buff, it was really cool to hear from famed climber Ed Viesturs, who offers his unique, knowledgeable perspective. When Viesturs points out that the prospects of literally walking out of the middle of the Andes are almost impossible – especially given the lack of training or gear – it’s hard to argue.

The recreations done for this program are universally well done, and some of the the most breathtaking footage actually seems to have been filmed in a large mountain range. There’s really some nice cinematography during these scenes, which emphasize just how remote the crash site was. Poignant music adds to the effectiveness of the dramatization, and though the acting is low-key and dialogue-free, I thought the actors did a pretty nice job. Written and directed by Brad Osborne, I Am Alive also makes a nice use of archival film and photographs. This story was pretty well-documented in the media around the time it happened and since, and I came into this show being aware of the major points of discussion hit upon in the ongoing narrative. Still, it was pretty fascinating to see (occasionally grisly) photos taken by the survivors of the crash which detailed their day-to-day existence, and to see the actual film footage taken when rescue helicopters descended on the nearly invisible plane wreckage high in the mountains. Perhaps my favorite part of the program were the scenes that showed the exact locations where some of the events in the story took place: we see the desolate, imposing valley where the plane actually went down, and take a look at the terrain along the path that Parrado took in an attempt to get help. One really gets a sense in these shots of the utter hopelessness that these men had to have been experiencing.

Undoubtedly the biggest talking point related to this story was the fact that those who remained alive following the initial crash resorted to eating the bodies of their dead comrades in order to survive. Stories like this aren’t all that uncommon looking back in history (for instance, the infamous Donner Party cannibalized their dead in order to survive a harsh winter on their journey through the American west), yet there always seems to be public condemnation of these acts, as if the people having to practice anthropophagy honestly had any choice in the matter. Trapped in an extreme situation, I think most people would do what it takes in order to survive and, when faced with absolute starvation, meat is meat. Certainly, I Am Alive touches on this issue: it would be impossible to tell this story without some discussion of it, but I felt as though the matter was handled tastefully by the producers.

For the most part, this program focuses its attention where it should be: on the amazing, bigger picture story of survival and namely on the incredible, grueling journey through the Andes that was undertaken by crash survivors Parrado and Roberto Canessa. These two, with minimal food and no honest-to-goodness mountain gear or know-how, somehow crossed 40 miles of hazardous and brutal mountain terrain during the course of a ten day trek. Without doubt, their individual story is one of the most unbelievable stories of unflappable will and determination ever seen in human history, and I Am Alive accentuates just how astounding this feat actually is. Though I was well aware of how this story played out, the sense of jubilation that exists in the recreated footage when Parrado and Canessa stumble upon a rancher is palpable. It’s a genuinely moving moment, especially when the people who lived the story tell it from their point-of-view.

Certainly, the story surrounding the crash of Flight 571 is fascinating, and this program provides a well-rounded examination of the event. I suppose one could make an argument that the story is a bit too one-sided, focusing almost exclusively on the obvious hero of the story Parrado, but it’s hardly much of a legitimate flaw. I’d say this show keeps the viewer’s attention throughout, seemingly like more than just a collection of talking heads. Though quite tragic and somber at times particularly when Parrado talks about his mother and sister who were killed in the crash, in the end this documentary is more a celebration of the human spirit and will to survive. While the show is pretty outstanding, it definitely looks and plays like a made-for-TV production and considering that, I’m not sure that it would be worth purchasing. I Am Alive is certainly worth watching though: give it a look if it you can catch it on TV.

Full-frame DVD from A&E Home Video includes several featurettes that includes a nice extras package. Additional interview footage is featured as well as segments detailing wreckage recovered from the crash site, what Nando Parrado is doing these days, and a return to the crash site nearly 40 years later.

4/10 : A few graphic images, but this is more disturbing for its subject matter and themes more than anything actually shown onscreen.

0/10 : No profanity; possible disturbing content

0/10 : Nothing going

0/10 : A straight-forward documentary presentation

“I said ‘Nando, there isn’t anything left in the storage compartments,’ and Nando looked me in the eye and said ‘Carlitos, I want to eat the pilot…'”


David Lynch’s Lost Highway Is More About Lost People~

Lost Highway



Pros: very cool, dark soundtrack; some visuals

Cons: unengaging characters and story; unsatisfying

I’ve never been a David Lynch movie fan. Bizarre, violent films with lots of stylized sex leave me cold and wondering why I’m trying to figure them out. His biggest movies, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, are cut from the same cloth  as 1997’s Lost Highway and so if you enjoyed either of them, you’ll enjoy this mindbender too.

This is a long film, well over two hours, in which there’s scant substance served up with scant clothing.  A young, good-looking couple living in a designer house are aping zombies as they feign interest in each other’s lives and go their separate ways for the night. The husband has received a cryptic message at his door; the wife (played by Patricia Arquette as seen above) finds mysterious videotapes with the morning mail where it’s revealed that somebody is stalking them in their home. The last one shows the wife brutally murdered and the husband feels like he’s lost his mind.

Suddenly he’s arrested for her murder and thrown in solitary while he awaits execution. We know as little as he does. He’s got a terrible head wound and headache and asks for the prison doctor because he can’t sleep. The next morning the guard gapes at the sight of another man alone in his cell!


See that guy above? Bill Pullman as the accused murderer. Sometime during the night he morphs into a younger guy played by Balthazar Getty and the prison has to release him.  Now we follow this guy to his job as a mechanic, getting hints from his family that he disappeared last night and is acting strange. At his shop a gangster shows up for his usual tune-up from him and takes him for a ride, then next time brings his gorgeous mistress with him. She looks very similar to the supposedly murdered wife and this guy wants her…

I’m not going to tire you with more details. It doesn’t make sense unless the mystery man in clown face that the husband was threatened by at a party early on is an evil magician or the mythological devil. Maybe, with a ghostly foundation for Lost Highway, this haphazard string of striking images may be pulled together, but only by a thread.


That’s Robert Blake portraying the mystery man, never looking better I daresay. Bad guy? Well, if wanting a gangster involved with a wealthy porn producer to be murdered is bad, right? I’m guessing this guy’s motivation is irrelevant, though, and let’s just be thrilled by all the titillating, sensual sexplay and the beautiful woman stripping with a gun to her head. Except that it’s not thrilling for me.

Lost Highway, with its badass soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Trent Raznor, Smashing Pumpkins and even Lou Reed, is really more about lost people on the highway, lost chances for Lynch to find an intriguing plot, and a lost audience who either hopes it’ll find its way or doesn’t care  if it does. I can’t even decide which type I am, oh my!

The Faces Of Fake Death

Faces Of Death (1978) 30th Anniversary Collectors Edition on  DVD/BLU-RAY:

Faces Of Death

[Rating: 4/5]

ProsTruth is stranger than fiction.

ConsTruth is stranger than fiction.



Faces Of Death (1978) 30th Anniversary Collectors Edition on  DVD/BLU-RAY:

Anyone who has not heard of this Halloween staple needs to. When I was a kid, this is the forbidden movie I would swap between friends.. Maybe it was forbidden because no one had seen anything like this before or maybe it was because it really was forbidden to watch actual deaths executed in front of a live camera. Either way, a movie that once had my friends and I sneaking to watch it has now become an international Halloween cult classic. 

Who could forget the surgeons as they performed open heart surgery only to have the patient’s heart rate flat line in front of your disbelieving eyes? 

Or the unrelenting footage of a slaughterhouse whose Kosher technique would saw a cow’s throat with a huge blade as the blood gushed forth?

Or the infamous and genuinely fake, “monkey brain sequence”, showing you people killing a monkey at a restaurant in order to dine on its brains? 

Or how about the unbelievable live execution of a killer who gets fried in the electric chair? 

For over 25 years Faces of Death has remained the first true godfather of the now common Shockumentary genre. When I was a kid in the early 80’s the last thing you wanted was to get caught watching or found to be in possession of this kind of movie, which at the time and for many, many years to come, would be blamed as responsible for teen suicides and grizzly cult murders for anyone brazen enough to commit to a fan following. Oh. but there was a fan following, a huge one in fact, and one that I was not openly admitting I was a part of for more than two decades. 

Proclaiming to be banned in over 40 Countries and purporting to be real, Faces Of Death was one of the most talked about and easily most misunderstood motion picture in history. Now for the first time ever Gorgon Video releases Faces Of Death 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition and lets us all in on one simple and amazing fact: 

That we as viewers had been had, by believing what we were seeing was actually real; it wasn’t. 98 percent of all included footage either was re-created with special effects or was news footage that had been altered to paint a more grizzly visual for, as it turns out, a Japanese movie audience. That’s right, Faces Of Death, was never intended for American audiences at all. 

Faces Of Death was created by a Conan Le Claire, a filmmaker who mainly did nature and animal documentaries, and where more than 80 percent of F.O.D’s footage came from.

 This is all revealed for the first time on the special features, where the people involved in the creation of F.O.D, spill their guts (so to speak) and show you how we all were fooled and made to believe what we were seeing was absolutely real. Watching F.O.D now after 25 years; it is easy to spot most of the phony scenes but even scenes you could still swear are real…. well those are fake too. Quite amazing for a movie that’s more than 30 yrs old. I can count on one hand all the scenes that were actually genuine and they all had to do with common, every day survival.
Conan even points out that some of the footage, perfectly acceptable when included in his nature films, was absolutely taboo when shown under a different light and context, and wasn’t at all acceptable here in America. America, where death to this day is taboo, a taboo almost entirely unique to this country. Why that is, is something I have been trying to figure out to this day. Especially in a place where watching killers and violence on TV or hearing about it in music, cartoons and video games is the standard for almost all entertainment groups/genres. 

True Reality Death Enthusiasts had dubbed this “Faces of Fake” and despised even including its name in the same breath as other films. Not me, not anymore, and not now after learning all the secrets and mysteries of Faces Of Death. I have become a fan all over again and can enjoy this now more than ever… Admitting we were wrong and laughing at ourselves and with the Faces Of Death filmmakers because they succeeded in fulfilling our worst nightmares and accomplished this feat entirely on a movie magic level that even I must admit was a pure genius Hollywood spectacular.

This DVD is loaded with special features. Including rare insight on one of America’s biggest hoaxes of the century since Big-Foot, Faces Of Deaths own Special Effects Artists and a long and eagerly awaited ‘tell all’commentary from the movies director Conan Le Claire.

I say “long awaited” because on prior releases Faces Of Death Box Set or an individual DVD release called Faces Of Death: Fact Or Fictiononly a few details are divulged; with a very disappointing  and a laughable approach as Conan is disguised from in back lit room and his voice is electronically…Talk about ultra cheesy!

There were also a couple of quick references to my all time favorite Shockumentary series ever: {Traces Of Death}. No real bashing done here but again no mutual love shown between the two ‘Godfathers of Gore’ this was completely acceptable to me and no love lost between myself concerning it.

Faces Of Death 30th Anniversary Collectors Edition
has been fully restored and is available on DVD and BLU-RAY with very little difference in clarity between them…  Very crisp and clear unlike MOST copies of this Faces Of Death 30th Anniversary Collectors Edition is the first Shockumentary on BLU-RAY, my hopes are that Traces Of Death will follow suit. 
For now, however, let us gaze into the many Faces Of Fake Death.

Pigeon is One Dirty Bird

The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems



Suitable for 2 to 5 year old readers and anyone else

Pros: Humor, Opportunities for silliness, Helps overcome fear of baths

Cons: Do you mind if your child walks around saying “Dude”

Pigeon is one dirty bird, just ask the flies who ignored him and chastised him for being dirty.  Mo Willems’ The Pigeon Needs a Bath! demonstrates that this author/illustrator remains at the top of his game even after nine pigeon books, 21 Piggie and Elephant books and too many other miscellaneous children’s books to count. The Caldecott and Geisel Medal winning author/illustrator continues to make us chuckle and helps us share engaging moments with the young children in our lives.


He also encourages children to do what they don’t want to do – like take a bath.


Pigeon doesn’t think he’s dirty. He thinks that’s someone else’s opinions. He argues that baths are unimportant, that clean and dirty are just words, and that life is too short to take a bath. He further explains that his smell, if he did smell, is normal for a pigeon and that some consider it impolite to bath.


These arguments might fuel the arguments of young readers who also dislike baths. As parents, though, we know that a bath isn’t all that distressing and that it just might be fun.  Pigeon finally relents but has a Goldilocks moment at the side of the tub. Again, we laughbathtub-clipart prior to the big splash – literally BIG splash.


I’ve no doubt Mo Willems and Pigeon will influence bath-resistant kiddos with this past-tense conclusion.



The Pigeon Needs a Bath provides everything we’ve come to expect from Willems. He engages parents with moments of silly play as well as simple life lessons. He also grows the vocabularies of two to five year olds. Expect them to say “what a kidder” and it’s “purely coincidental” and “that’s a matter of opinion.” Even more fun, children will have fun exploring the use of the word “dude” – the dude lives once again.


Cher Who?

Me, I’m intrigued by the notation “to Cher who always makes a big splash” in the opening pages. Once again Mo Willems gets high marks for creativity and wise use of an expressive pigeon. This is appropriate for the youngest toddlers to children entering kindergarten. I also see  awards in his future for this 2014 book.

20 Reasons Not to Ride a Motorcycle, or TRACES OF DEATH V




Pros: Brutal and vile, i.e. what one is looking for in a death tape

Cons: Too much filler with footage of suspension and backyard wrestling

NOTE: Traces of Death is a shock video series, containing actual documentary and newsreel footage of human carnage and destruction. It would not be suitable for many (or perhaps, any) viewers. Please don’t read my review if this subject matter would be upsetting to you.

The fifth (and to date, final) entry in the infamous “shockumentary” series Traces of Death that shows actual scenes of death and mutilation may be the most explicit of the bunch. The Traces series long-proclaimed to be “the first true shockumentary series” due to its supposed use only of authentic footage, but the first three volumes in particular fell short on this claim by including fabricated scenes ripped straight out of various Italian-produced documentaries of the 1970s. Traces of Death IV and V are the only ones that I could honestly say have avoided faked footage – and these two may indeed be among the more grueling death videos that one is likely to come across. It’s quite obvious from viewing it that Traces V has been edited together with footage taken from other sources (as was the case with the previous volume, much of the footage here seems to have originated in Asia), and the program looks and feels like the grade-F made-on-and-for-video production that it is. That said, this volume is extremely graphic and disgusting, with plentiful splayed brain matter courtesy of a near-endless array of scenes showing the aftermaths of motorcycle accidents.

As per usual, the gruesome footage seen in volume five is accompanied by an intermittent narration provided by producer “Brain Damage” who explains certain scenes and delivers a few wisecracks. Additionally, the program features a soundtrack made up of the nu-metal that was popular around the time this video was assembled in the year 2000. Truthfully, if the footage here weren’t so wet and gory, I’d almost be inclined to say that the soundtrack was the most nauseating aspect of the film. One of the most welcome changes between this and previous entries in the series is that the producers have finally realized that no one wants to see another asinine montage of non-fatal auto and motorcycle racing crack ups. These sequences were featured in every prior entry in the series, and came across as ridiculous in a series that prided itself on being brutal.

Not so good is the large amount of footage here that acts purely as filler: Traces V runs 90 minutes, but at least twenty of that could have been eliminated. There are several montages of backyard wrestling footage that, while prescient in the year 2000, seems idiotic today. It’s also worth noting that the wrestling footage included here is very tame by backyard wrestling standards: there is much worse, more violent, and extremely bloody wrestling footage out there, a large amount of which can be seen in the commercially available Best of Backyard Wrestling series. Perhaps the most questionable addition to volume five however is a lengthy section dealing with the phenomenon of “suspension” which focuses on groups of people who, as a form of “artistic expression,” are hung with ropes strung through fishhook like-metal loops stuck through the skin of their backs. Footage of heavily tattooed and pierced individuals being “suspended” is fairly eye-opening for sure, but I’m not sure that this material really belongs in a Traces of Death video. The ongoing program grinds to a standstill during this segment, and the suspension footage pales in comparison to the worst that Traces V has to offer.

Immediately after it begins, Traces V kicks off the parade of footage whose main purpose seems to be to promote motorcycle safety. I lost count of the amount of crash victims whose skulls had been completely obliterated, thus leaking their entire contents all over the roadway. Often, the camera (most of this footage appears to be of the newsreel variety) lingers on the pool of brain matter and blood, and a viewer certainly would gain an appreciation of just how fragile the human body really is when facing off against the laws of physics. This is especially true when a man’s body is literally ripped out of the chain link fence he was propelled into during a crash. I suppose it’s a little disappointing that Traces V focuses so heavily on vehicular accidents, but it’s difficult to imagine footage that would in any way be more bloody or gory than what is seen here.

Alongside familiar footage taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, we have instances of bodies (sometimes charred beyond recognition by fire, sometimes in severe states of decay) being recovered by coroners, victims of the drug war and the Asian mob, a cavalcade of birth defects and a look at the effects of leprosy, and some good, old-fashioned police chase action. One of the “highlights” of the program (which the narrator proclaims that he is “proud to present” to us) is a montage of footage showing various female rape/murder victims, reaching a true nadir when the camera zooms in on the putrefying genital region of one decomposing corpse. The obligatory WTF moment is provided by a sequence in which an Asian prostitute defecates onto a plate, much to the delight of her well-dressed patron who then proceeds to eat the results. The look on the woman’s face is priceless, though I’m not entirely convinced that there’s not some sort of trickery involved in creating this sequence. Finally, we have the infamous, rather harrowing footage taken from news helicopter showing an obviously disturbed man committing suicide by way of shotgun along a California highway. This last bit of footage is unsettling to say the least, and in general, there’s something here that would make most anyone a little queasy (or worse).

Had Traces of Death V been tightened up a little, with less focus on the whole suspension thing and backyard wrestling, I probably would have called this the most nasty and downright disgusting volume in the series. As it stands in its final version though, volume five has too much filler for my taste, seeming at times to stagnate. Due to these pacing issues, and despite the fact that the sheer amount of evacuated skulls here is sickening, Traces V doesn’t quite surpass volume four in terms of having the most “bang for your buck.” An edited version of this film would work wonders if shown as part of a motorcycle safety program: one can only imagine how grossed out people would be seeing some of this incredibly graphic footage, and it would certainly make them think long and hard about biker safety. Ultimately, while I certainly wouldn’t recommend this disc to everyone for obvious reasons, it would be one of two volumes of the Traces of Death series that best accomplishes its goal of shocking a viewer. Volume five is probably one of the most downright gross death videos out there, and considering what a viewer of these programs would be looking for in the first place, I’d say it’s recommendable.

“9th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” DVD from Brain Damage films is full-frame format; better picture quality than some other volumes in the series, but still is VHS level. Bonus footage on this DVD focuses on a series of gory still photos (thank you internets!) and a scene in which an African man is beaten to death by a mob. The interview with producer/narrator “Brain Damage” focuses on horror film distribution and film conventions and festivals. It’s a very mediocre extras package.

27/10 : Splatterrific; bring along a rain slicker to avoid all the brain matter and blood. EXTREME, REAL death and violence.

5/10 : some harsh profanity in song lyrics; not much of anything else

0/10 : Full nudity, but a close-up of decomposing female genitals? No thanks.

10/10 : Hideously gory and extremely graphic.

“On my travels around this deranged world, I have run into some individuals with an all around different view on life. Some may consider these people insane. I consider these outcasts new friends of mine.”

Due to the nature of this film, I’m not linking to any trailers or media. Proceed at your own risk…

LUX-PRO Tactical LED Flashlight: Scanning For Sasquatch

LUX-PRO LP800 Tactical 1-Watt LED Flashlight In Red





Pros: Compact and lightweight.  Precision machined aluminum case.  Water-resistant, with O-rings front-and-rear.  Extremely bright LED beam.  Overall battery life.

Cons: Made in China.  Uses an odd number of less-convenient and more-expensive AAA batteries.  Switch end-cap requires snugging to avoid flashlight flicker.

Our local general store sells a T-shirt that states “We’re Not In The Middle Of Nowhere, But You Can See It From Here”.  Since there are no streetlights in our bucolic little burg, those moonless nights can be profoundly dark.  Sure, you vacationers love our mountains, lakes and sunsets, but when nighttime settles upon your campsite and the coyotes and owls start a-yippin‘ and hootin‘, you’d best be sleepin’ with a flashlight next to your L.L. Beans.

LUX De Luxe

I happened upon the LUX-PRO Tactical LED Flashlight in a checkout display at my local CVS pharmacy.  Fitted with batteries as a clever sales ploy, I was amazed at the amount of light produced by its single-watt LED bulb.  Available in a variety of colors, the subject was no longer if, but which – the red or the coolest blue I’d ever seen.

The coolest blue flashlight I have ever not bought.
The coolest blue flashlight I have ever not bought.

Luminous Stats

Weighing-in at an even 4-ounces and measuring 4-3/8-inches in length, the LUX-PRO is a powerful and convenient portable light source suitable for any situation.  Its machined, 1-inch diameter aluminum body features a push-button rear switch, rubberized grip and is O-ring protected at both ends to earn its water-resistant-rating.  A 6-inch braided nylon wrist-strap is something a rugged outdoorsman would never use, but the cat will happily bat-about.

Brighter Than Yeti

Advertised as producing 70 Lumens (the equivalent of 10 watts) that will broadcast 50-meters, the broad beam produced from the single LED will effectively saturate the woods more than 100 feet from my house.  I can stand on my level-3 deck and scan the tree-line for twig-snapping Yeti with the amazing power of this mini-metal searchlight.  In fact, this little unit produces a light so bright, you should avoid shining it directly at the faces of people or pets.

Despite setting-out Cold Milk and Carrot Cake nightly, my LUX-PRO has yet to illuminate the elusive Yeti.
Despite setting-out cold milk and carrot cake nightly, my LUX-PRO has yet to illuminate the elusive Yeti.

Shy Of Perfection

Glowing evaluation aside, the LUX-PRO Tactical Flashlight has developed a habit of flickering if the switch-end isn’t replaced snugly – a minor flaw discovered after its initial battery change.  It appears the chubby O-ring used to maintain a watertight seal restricts the switch-end screw-cap’s spin enough to appear sufficiently tight when it’s not.  The aluminum body is substantial – as long as you haven’t cross-threaded the cap, it will eventually achieve a definitive bottom-out without damage.

Think pink and the LUX-PRO Tactical will provide.
Think pink and the LUX-PRO Tactical will provide.

Rather than using the less-expensive AA battery, the makers of the LUX-PRO chose to construct a cylindrical plastic cage – within which resides a trio of (included) AAA batteries.  Since batteries are sold in even-numbered sets, expect to search for strays come changing time – should your diminutive dry-cells get separated from the pack.

Glimmering Rebound

Contrary to its estimated 5-hour run-time, the batteries in my LUX-PRO LP800 Tactical 1-Watt LED Flashlight lasted just shy of a year – impressive, when considering the constant usage it sees in my inky, starlit domain.  Those 1-watt LEDs are apparently quite the little misers.

My niece bought the LUX-PRO Tactical in pink to match both the collar and leash of Buffy. Go Figure.
My niece bought Buffy the LUX-PRO Tactical in pink to match both her collar and leash – though she has no opposable thumbs. Go Figure.

For the cost of a sawbuck a year or so back, I’m pleased with the quality and convenience of the LUX-PRO.  Small enough to pocket on my way out the door, it’s also small enough to easily lose, should I set it down somewhere while absorbed within life’s latest project.

The rechargeable, 12-volt Dashlite Auto was the light of my life until the LUX-PRO Tactical came along.
The rechargeable, 12-volt Dashlite Auto was the light of my life until the LUX-PRO Tactical came along.

In the event of such an unfortunate occurrence, I will plunk-down another ten-spot and try the LUX-PRO Tactical LED in blue – to match my misplaced mood.

LUX-PRO Flashlights are covered by a Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Non-stick Cooking with T-Fal Sauce Pot

T-Fal Sauce Pot with Glass Lid (3-Quart)


Pros: non-stick dark interior, stay-cool handles, clear glass lid with vent, dishwasher safe

Cons: I feel more comfortable hand washing the pot (but that’s just me)

For a lot of years, I was a die-hard T-Fal cookware user.  Then I discovered the joys of ceramic pots and pans.  Still, there are a few favorite T-Fal pieces that I consistently use … and this 3-quart sauce pot is one of them.

Description The T-Fal 3-quart non-stick pan is a dark silver-gray color.  It comes with a glass lid.  The lid has a small vent hole, and a round plastic-type knob on the top.  Overall, this pan measures 18” x 13” x 11”.  There is a hole in the pot handle for hanging, but the lid would need separate storage.  The pan is dishwasher safe.

My Experiences This is a great size pot to have on hand.  My ceramic cookware has pans that are smaller or larger than this 3-quart T-Fal piece.  I cook a variety of items in this pan: soup, sauces, gravy, vegetables, instant mashed potatoes (which my nieces and nephew love).  The pot has high sides, too, so that liquids don’t easily splash out.  The pan evenly heats and performs well.

Whenever I have a tomato-based product (ex: tomato soup or spaghetti sauce), I reach for this pan.  The pan size is good … but the dark non-stick interior is great for cooking items that might stain a pan inside.  I have an enamel pan with a white interior that I used to boil carrots and steam turnip, and the interior is stained orange from those vegetables.  I don’t have to worry about that using the T-Fal.

The vent hole is a great addition in the lid.  The hole is small and rimmed with metal.  When the water (or pan contents) heats up, the steam escapes out the hole.  The clear lid is great for seeing inside the pot, too.  I also like the stay-cool knob on the lid and pot handle.

Cleaning is easy with this pan, too.  I soak the pan and give it a quick rinse to rid it of most of the tomato sauce residue.  Then I soak the pan with some liquid soap inside it.  With a quick swish of a sponge, the pan is clean.  Even though the manufacturer says it is dishwasher safe, I have never washed this T-Fal pot in the machine.  It is so easy to hand wash and dry on the rack, I don’t even consider placing it in the dishwasher.

I have owned this pan a number of years, and so far the non-stick coating is all in place.  The pot has proven very durable.  As a note: I never use metal utensils as they may harm the non-stick coating.  Silicone and soft nylon utensils work well.

Summary I would definitely purchase another of the T-Fal Sauce Pots with Glass Lid.  It is a great addition to my cookware.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy the day,



Copyright 2014 Dawn L. Stewart

A Sub-par Wrestling Showcase: FMW – RING OF TORTURE



Pros: Main events deliver the goods

Cons: They’re a long time coming…

Fifth in the TokyoPop DVD series highlighting Japanese wrestling from the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) promotion, Ring of Torture features a lineup of seven fights, all of which occurred on December 21, 1995 at the Yokohama Bunka Taikukan (or “cultural gymnasium”). FMW was started in 1989 and quickly went about revolutionizing the world of pro wrestling by introducing bloody, so-called “garbage wrestling” to the mainstream public. This style, sometimes referred to as “hardcore” or “extreme” wrestling, utilized weapons and often, crazy match stipulations such as barbed wire, broken glass, and even explosives. FMW eventually spawned many imitators in Japan and the United States, as promotions looked to capitalize on the popularity of extreme violence in wrestling matches. By the late 2000s however, the “hardcore” wrestling style had more or less fizzled out and most extreme wrestling promotions (including FMW as well as American organizations like ECW and XPW) had vanished. While some promotions focusing on graphic in-ring violence continue on the fringes of the wrestling industry, the major players in the business (i.e. the WWE) have minimized their focus on this style of in-ring combat.

As seems to be typical on these FMW DVDs, the opening few matches on Ring of Torture are generally pretty awful, though the trio of main event feature fights do (to an extent) deliver what a fan would expect. Still, having to sit through two womens matches featuring the likes of Miwa Sato and “Bad Nurse” Nakamura isn’t my idea of a good time: as much as the announce team of John Watanabe and Eric Geller try to sell female FMW wrestlers as being a step above their American eye-candy counterparts, Sato and Nakamura in particular just don’t cut it. Their sloppy, unexciting matches simply don’t belong on a video series that at least attempts to showcase the best this legendary, influential Japanese promotion had to offer. Not helping matters at all is fact that the producers of this disc have clipped the hell out of at least half of these matches: though on-screen graphics indicate the matches lasted in the 10-15 minute range, viewers of the program only get about five minutes or less of condensed, edited footage. It’s difficult then to really get a feel for and get into some of these contests: the selection of high-spots isn’t especially exciting to watch. I was especially disappointed by the lack of (usually hilarious) pre-match promos – to be honest, these are probably the aspect of FMW wrestling DVDs I look forward to the most. They were sorely missed on this disc.

The most damning element of the Americanized TokyoPop FMW DVDs however is its “humorous” presentation. Geller and Watanabe talk trash and crack idiotic jokes throughout the program while introducing the matches, relying on toilet humor (“John just farted…I think you better check your pants…”) or crude sexual remarks (“Someone who does great work on his knees is my partner here…”) that make this whole program seem to be directed towards twelve-year-olds. The announce duo’s actual commentating during the wrestling isn’t any better, as they invent ludicrous backstories for the matches while often ignoring the in-ring action. Aren’t these two supposed to be “selling” the contest? You wouldn’t know it from listening to them discuss just about anything other than the wrestling itself.

Here’s the lineup of matches included on this DVD:

1. Gekko vs. Gosaku Goshogawara – A very stiff fight in which the almost bird-like Gekko stalks his opponent, delivering brutal kicks and strikes at every opportunity. This squash match lasts just three minute (thus we actually see it in its entirety), but Gosaku is abused from start to finish, bleeding simply due to the stomps he’s taking in the head. Personally, I wish Gekko would have featured in more matches in this video series; his dominant performance here makes a strong impression and this was one of the matches from the FMW series that I remembered even years later. Three stars out of a possible five.

2. Miwa Sato vs. Kaori Nakayama – The first of two lame womens undercard matches, this one features numerous moves that obviously don’t connect and general sloppiness throughout. I would almost believe that Nakayama could hold her own in the ring, but not when she’s performing with the boat anchor that is Sato. At one point, Sato uses a towel as a whip, which is a good choice considering her utter lack of technical wrestling skill. Brief, inconsequential, forgettable. One star.

3. “Bad Nurse” Nakamura vs. Yukari Ishikura – Screaming females galore in this women’s bout that occasionally spills out of the ring. More often though, we get a series of missed opportunities inside the ropes. Even in condensed, highlighted form, there’s not much to see here as the contest is more or less another squash match. Be sure to turn down the volume lest Ishikura’s shrieks will give you a headache. One star.

4. Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Katutoshi Niyama – A definite improvement over the two matches immediately preceding it, this features an early exchange of stiff shots and slaps. These two guys put on a decent mid-card contest with a handful of exciting moves, including a nice drop kick from the top ropes performed by the more agile Kuroda. The stout Niyama is simply a powerhouse and attempts to bully his opponent into submission. After a nice buildup of intensity throughout the fight, there’s a hasty finish that’s a bit of a letdown. A middle-of-the-road, two and a half star bout.

5. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Pogo – A one-time standout technical wrestler, Mr. Pogo in FMW became the ultimate villain, a man who would stop at nothing to win, often using ninja weapons (a sickle being his weapon of choice) and fire to dominate and brutalize his opponents. One might think Pogo would have his work cut out for him in taking on Tanaka, arguably one of the two most talented performers in the promotion, but this wasn’t exactly the case. You see, for as much as Pogo was willing to dish out punishment on others, he was the type of wrestler who mostly refused to take bumps – essentially, he wouldn’t receive the same type of punishment he was dishing out. What we have here then is Tanaka being taken apart – literally – by an opponent in Pogo who carves up his face and arms with a serrated blade, suspends him by the neck out of the ring using a thick length of chain, and generally beats Tanaka senseless. Tanaka bleeds heavily during the match – watch as the white shirt he’s wearing to start the match slowly becomes covered in blood and dirt from being slammed on the concrete floor. Especially brutal is the trio of sick-looking pile drivers directly onto a barbed wire-covered baseball bat that Tanaka absorbs late in the going. I had to chuckle during a moment when Pogo is seen rubbing his sickle up and down the arm of Tanaka without actually making contact with the skin – OOPS! – where’s all that blood coming from then? Those looking for trademark FMW violence need look no further, but this one-sided match is kinda sketchy in my book. Three and a half stars.

6. Combat “Mother-in-Law” Toyoda and Bison Kimura vs. Megumi Kudo and Aja Kong – A women’s tag team match billed as the “Women’s Wrestling School Class of 1986 Reunion Match.” Obviously, then, one can assume these women know each other pretty well, and they certainly are of a talent level that ensures that they put on a solid technical bout with good tag team dynamics. Some rough action including hard-hitting striking and some nifty high-flying moves. It’s amusing to see the slim and trim Kudo working with this group of much bigger ladies: though she was the most popular female wrestler in the promotion, the under-sized Kudo could never in my mind convincingly stack up against most of her competition – a fact never illustrated better than during this contest. Though there are a few dumb moments (several biting attacks for instance), and sequences where Kong seems to be out of her league (her only offense during one stretch of the match is a never-ending string of headbutts), the match builds to a pretty exciting final stretch with many pinfall attempts and last-minute escapes. This is no classic, but placed on this generally underwhelming wrestling card, it seems better than it actually is. Three and a half stars.

7. Super Leather, Hido, and Kintaro WING Kanemura vs. Jason the Terrible, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, and Hideki Hosaka – Billed as a six-man, “Caribbean Barbed Wire Spider Web, Double Hell Glass Crush Kenzan Death Match” (got all that?), this is one of the more crazy stipulation battles that put FMW on the map (and set the stage for rival Japanese promotion Big Japan to push the concepts of wacky stipulations to the absolute extreme). It’s a wild brawl from start to finish, with fighters battling all over the arena, getting thrown into barbed wire ropes, bleeding profusely, and occasionally being tossed into beds of barbed wire and broken glass placed alongside the ring. Matsunaga enters this match without wearing a shirt and at one point, has panes of glass shattered on his bare chest by an opponent wielding a nail-covered two-by-four. Jason (whose character is based on the villain from Friday the 13th) actually loses his mask early on in the fight (GASP!) and towards the end of the contest, Super Leather gets his dreadlocks caught up in the barbed wire and proceeds to drag a huge strand of it around the arena since he can’t get untangled. This match was more or less designed to showcase the ultra-extreme style of the WING faction in FMW who specialized in death matches. Considering that, it’s pretty amusing that Hido, a wrestler who (like Mr. Pogo) seemed to be very hesitant about taking nasty bumps into barbed wire and the like, participates in this match and proceeds to be annihilated by a series of power moves and stuff piledrivers while avoiding the plunder at all costs. As usual in death matches of this (exceedingly outrageous) variety, this match almost seems like overkill: too rowdy and manic to be genuinely exciting. Still, lots of blood and many violent spots. Three and a half stars.

Though it eventually delivers what one would expect and hope for, Ring of Torture is wildly inconsistent and doesn’t have any match that I’d consider to be a must-see. The main events are a long time coming, and a viewer has to sit through some pretty lousy wrestling displays to get to the good stuff. Even by the standards of the hit-or-miss FMW video series then, I’d have to call this program a slightly below average, somewhat disappointing entry that’s in no way helped along by the asinine commentary and severe truncating applied to some of the matches. Since it was nearly impossible to actually see FMW wrestling in the United States at the times these discs were put out in the early 2000s, I appreciate the fact that this series did focus its attention on this obscure Japanese promotion. Still, I can’t help but wish that TokyoPop had taken their approach to the programs more seriously – as a whole, these discs seem very amateurish and borderline ridiculous. Ultimately, Ring of Torture would probably be recommended only for fans of the promotion: it’s a decent time-waste, but those used to more polished sports entertainment would likely be underwhelmed.

“Uncensored Version” DVD from Tokyo Pop is decent-looking full-frame (from original VHS masters) and contains all the gory tidbits removed for television broadcast. The disc also features much the same bonus features as other FMW discs: featurette on wrestler Hayabusa, wrestler bios, history of FMW essay, optional English or Japanese language commentary, and isolated “wrestling school 101” segments. The bonus match included on the DVD is:

Masato Tanaka, Koji Nakagawa, and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura, Hideki Hosaka, and Hido – This is a perfect example of a match being clipped into oblivion: a fifteen minute contest reduced to two and a half minutes. Are we really supposed to even care what happens here? It looks like a pretty solid technical battle, but makes no sense towards the end when his teammates abandon Hido, who takes the brunt of the “Tanaka blast.” Dumb. No stars; it’s not even worth it.

7/10 : Pogo versus Tanaka features some pretty extreme blood loss on the part of Tanaka; main event is similarly violent and gory.

5/10 : A handful of four-letter curse words seen in the subtitles; some crude and adult humor in the English-language commentary.

0/10 : Women in spandex, grinding on one another.

7/10 : A pair of extreme death matches gives this Japanese wrestling program some added punch.

Eric Geller at his most classy: “I have got a bo…Hey, can I say ‘boner?’…I have got a boner about this match!”

FMW Women Go to War!