Terror In The “Woods”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

“There is another world. There is a better world,” Grant Morrison famously informed us (in a scene that still coaxes a tear from my eye every time) in the final issue of his celebrated Doom Patrol run, before qualifying things by stating, “Well — there must be.” But what if there isn’t?

The “city slicker” couple at the center of cartoonist Mike Freiheit’s new graphic novel, Woods, moved to a remote cabin hoping to find that better world after the election of a certain unnamed right-wing demagogue helped engender a complete mental breakdown in one of them, but they soon discovered that going “off the grid” looks a lot easier on YouTube videos than it actually is in real life.

That being said, Freiheit — who self-financed and self-published a limited edition of this book in preparation for SPX (I’ve swiped a couple images off his facebook, which…

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You Can’t Pass On “Can’t Breathe Without Air”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

The second of two recent self-published minis from the sublime mind and pencil (and pen, and brush, and —) of Angela Chen that we’ve had the pleasure to read in recent days (the first being The Review, the cover of which is shown near the bottom of this review and which I sincerely hope you, dear reader, have already availed yourself of the opportunity to order), Can’t Breathe Without Air may sound on paper like it treads pretty firmly in “been there, done that” territory — it is, after all, a 32-page ‘zine composed entirely of diary comics — but in the right hands, even the most over-worked of premises can still be interesting, no matter how absent the “fresh” and the “new” inherently are from the equation.

Besides — I still think diary comics serve an important function for cartoonists. There’s utility in just keeping yourself busy, honing…

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Film Review: Shadowplay (dir by Tony Pietra Arjuna)

When he was just a child, Anton Shaw disappeared, the victim of an apparent kidnapping.  He was missing for days until he was found with little memory of where he had been or who had abducted him.  He’s haunted by dreams of his mother being taken away from him, her farewell cry of “Adieu,” ringing in his mind.

As an adult, Anton (played by Tony Eusoff) is a private investigator, working in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.  He’s not a particularly successful detective.  In fact, as the film begins, it seems like he spends more time reading old paperback novels about other detectives than doing any investigating of his own.  Even as an adult, he’s haunted by dreams and random flashes of memories, all linking back to the trauma that he suffered as a child.

When Anton is hired to investigate the disappearance of a college student named Lumya (Jurias Hartman), he soon finds himself plunging into the underworld of Kuala Lampur.  Everyone from Lumya’s dance instructor to her art teacher seems to have something to hide and, for once, Anton’s problem is not having enough options but instead having too many.  Everyone seems as if they may have had something to do with Lumya’s disappearance and the more that Anton digs, the more he finds himself obsessing on his own disappearance.  Could these two mysteries somehow be linked?

While Anton investigates, he also reads a book.  The book, with is credited to no author and no publisher, appears to be a choose your own adventure-type book from the 1980s and the choices that it asks the reader to make are unmistakably similar to the choices that Anton will have to make to solve not only Lumya’s mystery but his own as well.  Does the book hold the answers to Anton’s questions or is both his disappearance and Lumya’s destined to just be another unsolved mystery in a world that’s full of them?


Shadowplay is a wonderfully surreal mystery from director Tony Pietra Arjuna.  Tempting as it may be to call Shadowplay a film noir, perhaps a better label would be neon noir.  The city of Kula Lampur is definitely one of the stars of the film with, Arjuna capturing the urban landscape with its mix of beauty and danger.  The neon of the city glows in each scene, adding a progressively more and more menacing tint to each chapter of Anton’s story.  When Anton’s investigation leads him to a bar, Ich bin ein Berliner glows, in purple lettering, from a wall, a reminder that all things will ultimately be commercialized.  Towards the end of the film, when Anton meets some very bad people, the neon gives off a red glow that warns us of the blood that will soon be spilled.  Throughout it all, the synthpop score (provided by Stellar Dreams) pulses in the background, adding to the film’s dream-like feel.

Shadowplay is a film that keeps you off-balance.  It’s a film that keeps you wondering what’s real and what is just a fragment of memory or a figment of imagination.  It’s a film that welcomes a second viewing, just so you can pick up on the clues that you might have missed the first time around.  In the lead role, Tony Eusoff makes Anton into a sympathetic character and, even as the film grows progressively more surreal, the sincerity of his performance keeps you watching.  You want to know what’s going on in his mind.  You want to know the answers to his questions and the solutions to his mysteries.

Playing out like a filmed dream, Shadowplay is an existential journey worth taking.  It’s played in some theaters and is currently available on VOD.  I watched it on Vimeo.

Bruce Lee vs. The Star Whackers: Game of Death (1978, directed by Robert Clouse)

Billy Lo (played by archival footage of Bruce Lee and two stand-ins) is the world’s biggest film star and the Syndicate (represented by Dean Jagger and Hugh O’Brian) want a piece of the action.  When Billy refuses to allow the Syndicate to take control of his career, the Syndicate responds by threatening both Billy and his girlfriend (Colleen Camp).  After a Syndicate hitman sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and shoots him in the face, Billy allows the world to believe that he’s dead.  Using a variety of disguises, Billy seeks revenge on the Syndicate and all of its assassins, including the 7 foot tall Hakim (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Lee’s original plan for the Game of Death was that it would feature him as a retired martial artist who, in order to save the lives of his family, had to make his way up a five-level pagoda, defeating a different guardian on each floor.  Each guardian would represent a different fighting style and the journey up the pagoda would allow Lee to discuss his beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts.  Serving as both director and star, Lee did during the making of the film, of cerebral edema though some said Lee was either murdered or that he had faked his own death.

Released seven years after his death, the final version Game of Death has little in common with Lee’s original vision.  Only about 11 minutes of footage from the original film was used in the revised version and most of Lee’s philosophical concerns were abandoned for a plot that, today, feels like it could have been lifted from Randy Quaid’s twitter timeline.  (Also, when watching the film today, it’s also impossible to watch the Syndicate’s assassins disguise Billy Lo’s shooting as an on-set accident without being reminded of what would happen to Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow.)  Game of Death opens with footage lifted from Lee’s battle with Chuck Norris at the end of Way of the Dragon and the other fight scenes are full of close-ups of Lee that were obviously lifted from other films.  There’s even a scene in Billy’s dressing room where a cardboard cut-out of Lee’s face has obviously been taped onto a mirror.  After Billy fakes his own death, footage of Bruce Lee’s actual funeral is shown, including a shot of Lee in his coffin.

If you can overlook the ethical issues of making a Bruce Lee film without the actual participation of Bruce Lee, Game of Death is actually a pretty entertaining movie.  Director Robert Clouse had previously directed Enter the Dragon and obviously knew how to direct a fight scene while even stock footage of Bruce Lee has more charisma than the average action star.  Best of all, Bruce Lee battles Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, in an epic scene that Lee himself directed for the original version of Game of Death.  When the 7’2 Kareem Abdul Jabber plants his foot in the middle of Bruce Lee’s chest, Game of Death achieves pop cultural immortality.

Thorny ethical concerns aside, Game of Death proves that Bruce Lee will live forever.

Music Video of the Day: Criminal by Britney Spears (2011, dir by Chris Marrs Piliero)

But mama I’m in love with a criminal
And this type of love isn’t rational, it’s physical
Mama please don’t cry, I will be alright
All reason aside I just can’t deny, I love the guy

Well, seriously, can you blame her?  By showing us who she was with before she hooked up with the title character, the video for Britney Spears’s Criminal leaves little doubt that Britney made the right choice.  To be honest, that prologue makes the entire video and, especially when you consider the way that she’s been treated in real life, there’s something deeply satisfying about seeing Britney kick that jerk in the balls.

Britney’s co-star in the video was her then-boyfriend, Jason Trawick.  It was Britney’s idea to cast Trawick in the role and the director has said that he originally wasn’t enthused about the idea as Trawick was a former agent with little acting experience.  However, I think Trawick did alright.  The fact that he and Britney already had chemistry helped and, if nothing else, he’s not Kevin Federline.

This video was shot in the Stoke Newington district of London.  Apparently, there was some controversy because, at one point, Britney is seen holding a revolver and some locals felt that was insensitive given the district’s history of rioting.  Honestly, though, if you’re dating a criminal, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll end up holding a gun at some point.  Southern girls understand.