Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Crime At Babel” By Martins Zutis (Mini Kus! #88)

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Billed by publisher Kus! as either a “visual riddle or rather a sudoku in a comic form,” there’s really nothing that precludes Latvian cartoonist Martins Zutis’ Crime At Babel (released last month as #88 in the long-running Mini Kus! line) from being both, of course — after all, last I checked, a sudoku is, in fact, a type of riddle, and one that’s usually well beyond my meager problem-solving abilities, at that. I know a lot of people have fun with the damn things, but I’m not one of them, and therefore I went into this comic with, at the very least, some nominal misgivings.

Maybe the whole thing will just blow right past me, I thought to myself. Maybe my brain just doesn’t work in a way that will allow me to come to grips with it. Maybe it’ll just be too damn smart for me. These things…

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The Gumball Rally (1976, directed by Chuck Bail)

When he gets bored in a business meeting, Michael Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) calls his old friend, Prof. Samuel Graves (Nicholas Pryor) and says only one word: “Gumball.”  Inspired by that one word, dozens of racers assemble in New York, all planning on taking part in the Gumball Rally.

What is the Gumball Rally?  It’s a highly illegal race in which teams of two compete to see which team can drive from New York to the other side of the country in the least amount of time.  Bannon and Graves currently hold the record for completing the Gumball Rally in the quickest amount of time and all of the racers are determined to try to claim that record for their own.  Meanwhile, one cop named Roscoe (Norman Burton) is determined to break this race up.  Has there ever been a good cop named Roscoe?  Rosco P. Coltrane probably had more of a chance of stopping them Duke Boys than Roscoe does stopping the Gumball Rally.

If The Gumball Rally sounds familiar, it’s because it’s basically a less star-filled version of The Cannonball Run.  Instead of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, The Gumball Rally has Michael Sarrazin, Nicholas Pryor, Tim McIntire, and Norman Burton.  Instead of Jackie Chan making his American debut, The Gumball Rally has early performances from Raul Julia and Gary Busey.  Instead of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., The Gumball Rally has Steven Keats and Wally Taylor.  You get the idea.  However, the lack of big stars in the cast works to The Gumball Rally‘s advantage.  Whereas you watch The Cannonball Run with the knowledge that there’s no way Burt Reynolds isn’t going to at least come in second, it seems like anyone of the eccentric teams in The Gumball Rally could win the race.

Make no mistake about it, The Gumball Rally is a car chase film, one that was released at the height of that underrated genre’s popularity.  The actors are all likable and almost all of the characters get at least one funny, personality-defining moment but the real stars of The Gumball Rally are the cars and the stunts. That’s not surprising as this film was directed by legendary stuntman Chuck Bail.  This film is full of spectacular crashes and near misses.  (The race’s lone motorcyclist is especially accident-prone.)  Again, the lack of stars in the cast (and the fact that the cast reportedly did most of their own driving) bring an added element of suspense to the stunts.  You watch The Cannonball Run and Smoky and the Bandit secure in the knowledge that Burt Reynolds is never going to crash his vehicle because he’s Burt Ryenolds.  You don’t have that same automatic security when the car is being driven by Michael Sarrazine or Tim McIntire.

It may not be as well known as some of the films that it inspired but, if you like a good car chase (or a good car crash) film, The Gumball Rally is for you.

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Violent Delights” By Hetamoe (Mini Kus! #87)

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

I’ve reviewed some pretty “far out” comics in my time — and some of the most “far out” have been part of the Mini Kus! line from Latvian publisher Kus! — but Portuguese cartoonist Hetamoe’s Violent Delights (which was just released last month as Mini Kus! #87) probably takes the cake as the most experimental, borderline-indescribable work I’ve ever tried to wrap my head around in full view of my readership. I won’t do you the disservice of saying that I’ve completely figured this one out yet, and to be honest I’m not sure that I ever will, but maybe that’s not even the point here. This is complex, challenging, at times even taxing stuff — and where it takes you, as well as how it gets you there, is going to vary a great deal from reader to reader. I’ll even go so far as to say that I’m…

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The Covers of Famous Detective Cases

Famous Detective Cases was a true crime magazine that was published from March of 1935 to October of 1936.  Like most crime magazines of the era, it featured stories about unsolved crimes, gangsters, murder, and public scandal.  Unlike the more flamboyant style that was favored by other true crime magazines of the era, the covers of Famous Detective Cases tended to take almost an expressionist approach to its subject matter.

Below are the covers of Famous Detective Cases.  I don’t know the identity of any of the artists who worked on these covers but if I find out, this post will be updated.

(My two personal favorites are the shadowy covers for June and December.)

Film Review: American Wisper (dir by Russ Emanuel)

Josiah Wisper (Christian Barber) is a young and successful businessman.  He owns a few bars in Harlem.  He owns a few New York apartment building and, to his tenants, he’s a familiar site, walking up and down the hallways and making sure that everyone has paid their rent.  He and his family have a nice, big house in New Jersey where, not insignificantly, they’re the only black family living in the neighborhood.  Josiah is brash and confident and so sure of his future that he’s even hired a videographer to record every aspect of his life.  Everywhere he goes, she follows and films.

She films him when he’s at his bar, kicking out a drug dealer.  She films him while he’s collecting rent.  She films when he’s talking to his parents.  She films him when he’s flirting with his mistress.  She even films him the night that he returns to New Jersey and discovers that his entire family has been shot to death.  She continues to film as Wisper is interrogated by the police, shunned by his neighbors, and finally forced to investigate the murder on his own.

Usually, found footage films get on my last nerve and I have to admit that I was a little bit concerned when American Wisper began with Wisper talking to the camera.  However, American Wisper actually makes fairly good use of the gimmick.  There’s no shortage of people in the film who are willing to point out how strange it is that Wisper is allowing all of this to be filmed.  In fact, once people start to suspect that Wisper committed the murder, many of them specifically claim that his obsession with being filmed proves that there’s something off about him.  It’s held up as evidence that Wisper is a narcissist who only cares about himself.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t necessarily dismiss that possibility.  As played by Christian Barber, Wisper does come across as a man who is happy to be living in a movie.  When we first see him, he’s presiding over his bar and you can tell that he’s a man who loves being the center of attention.  Even after the murders, Wisper still often seems to be playing up to the camera, leaving you wondering if maybe it’s possible that there is something that he’s not being honest about.  It creates a genuine feel of suspense, which is more than can be said for most found footage films.

I liked American Wisper.  It’s a low-budget film, made for under $500,000, but it makes good use of that low budget.  When Wisper drives through New York or into New Jersey, he’s not visiting an elaborate Hollywood sound stage.  Instead, he’s actually walking down those streets and driving down those roads and it brings an authenticity to the film that it might have lacked with a bigger budget or a more elaborate production.  Some of the actors are a bit more convincing than others but Christian Barber does an excellent job in the lead role, making Wisper into a character with whom you sympathize despite his flaws.  American Wisper is a murder mystery that’s about more than just a crime.  It’s also an examination of race, upward mobility, and fame in America.

American Wisper can currently be viewed on Prime.