Barking Up The Right Tree : Christopher Adams’ “Dog Book”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

I’ve reviewed a number of cat-centric comics on this site, so it’s time to even the score a bit — and there’s no more intriguing and unexpected a person to bring our canine friends to the table (errrmm, maybe that came out wrong) than Christopher Adams, whose Tack Piano Heaven manages to thematically encompass just about everything under the sun without confining itself to “be” any one thing in particular. Adams’ work is a constantly-shifting series of surprises, the very definition of “no solid ground,” so seeing him narrow his focus onto a singular subject is sure to yield interesting results — which brings us to his latest self-published ‘zine, Dog Book.

Strictly speaking, this is a 20-page “suite” of illustrations featuring, you guessed it, dogs, but it doesn’t take long to figure out there’s a lot more going on here than that. Utilizing any number of tools, including…

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A Time To Die (1991, directed by Charles T. Kanganis)

Jackie (Traci Lords) is a single mom and a photographer who loses custody of her son when she’s framed for cocaine possession by a corrupt cop named Eddie Martin (Robert Miano).  Jackie is released from jail early, on the condition that she do 400 hours of community service.  Specifically, she is ordered to take pictures of the LAPD doing a good job and not killing people.  Captain Ralph Phibbs (Richard Roundtree) makes it very clear that she is to take only positive pictures of the LAPD or she could go back to jail and end up never seeing her son again.

However, even while doing community service, Jackie’s a rebel.  She decides to follow around Eddie and get pictures of him engaged in the same type of corruption that got her sent to prison.  Jackie manages to get Eddie on film murdering a pimp but, instead of going to the authorities, she wants to use the picture to blackmail Eddie into clearing her name.  Eddie, who has a cocaine problem, doesn’t respond well to being blackmailed and he decides to get the negatives and kill Jackie, not necessarily in that order.

While Eddie’s trying to kill Jackie, Frank (Jeff Conaway), another cop, is trying to maneuver his way into Jackie’s bed.  At first, Jackie doesn’t trust Frank because he’s a cop but then Frank takes her on a date to a domestic disturbance call and soon, she’s falling for him.  Frank, though, might not be as trustworthy as he seems.

This is one of the many direct-to-video thrillers in which Traci Lords appeared in the years immediately following her forced retirement from the adult film industry.  As was often the case with her 90s films, Lords is the best thing about A Time To Die.  In this film, Traci Lords again shows that she was a good actress.  Unfortunately, because of her past, she never got the type of roles that she really deserved.  In A Time To Die, she is believably tough and she makes the clunkiest dialogue credible.  Unfortunately, the other members of the cast don’t try anywhere near as hard as Lords does to bring some sort of reality to their stereotypical roles.  Conaway and Miano both sleepwalk through their roles while Richard Roundtree is reduced to getting mad and doing a lot of shouting.  Though the plot is sometimes predictable and it doesn’t take a psychic to know that Eddie is eventually going to go after Jackie’s son, the story is still interesting enough to hold your attention while your watching the movie.

A Time To Die is an occasionally interesting B-thriller that is elevated by the efforts of Traci Lords.

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for September

As of a few weeks ago, West Side Story is now officially out of this year’s Oscar race.  Steven Spielberg’s musical was one of the many major studio productions to be moved all the way back to late 2021.  So, scratch West Side Story from your lists, everyone.  It’s gone for now.

The more I think about it, the more I think the Academy made a mistake extending the eligibility window.  As you may remember, this year’s eligibility window now extends to February of 2021.  When this was first announced, I felt that it was the Academy’s way of keeping the big studios happy.  “You folks don’t want the Oscars to be dominated by streaming films,” the Academy seemed to be saying, “so we’ll just give you some extra time to get your movies out into the theaters.”  Well, joke’s on the Academy because, even with the extended time period, it still looks like the Oscar race is going to be dominated by streaming titles.

Personally, I wish that the Academy would just admit they made a mistake and go back to the old eligibility window.  Or, at the very least, just answer the question as to whether or not the 2021’s Oscar eligibility period is going to end at the end of December of that year or in February of 2022.  I’m a big believer in having a set schedule so all this uncertainty is annoying the Hell out of me.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here are my updated predictions for September.  After looking at these, feel free to check out my predictions for JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July, and August!

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy



News of the World


One Night in Miami


The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director

David Fincher for Mank

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On The Rocks

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night In Miami

David Strathairn in Nomandland

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Debra Winger in Kajillionaire

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Fist Fighter (1989, directed by Frank Zuniga)

C.J. Thunderbird (played by Jorge Rivero) is a former professional fighter who is now a miner living in Arizona.  Two years ago, Thunderbird’s best friend was killed by a fighter named Rhino (Matthias Hues).  Thunderbird swore vengeance and, when he gets a telegram informing him that Rhino has been spotted in Bolivia, Thunderbird heads down to South America, looking to settle things once and for all.  With the help of a down-on-his-luck trainer named Punchy (Edward Albert), Thunderbird nearly defeats Rhino in the ring but the fight is suddenly stopped by the local police, all of whom are paid off by local drug dealer, Billy Vance (Mike Connors).  Rhino works for Vance and Vance doesn’t want his most fearsome goon to be shown up in public.  Thunderbird and Puchy soon find themselves in one of those prisons where the inmates are forced to take part in underground cage matches.  Thunderbird’s only chance of survival and perhaps escape depends upon defeating yet another fighter, the Beast (Gus Rethwisch).

The coolest thing about Fist Fighter is that it’s called Fist Fighter.  It sounds like a title for a movie that someone made up but instead, it’s very, very real.  The 2nd coolest thing about Fist Fighter is that the hero is named Thunderbird.  I think this was Thunderbird’s only film adventure.  If Fist Fighter had made more money, it could have led to a Thunderbird franchise.  Jorge Rivero wasn’t much of an actor but he’s good in the fight scenes and Edward Albert overacts to such an extent that he easily makes up for Rivero’s inability to actually show emotion.  I also liked Mike Connors as the smug villain.  Brenda Bakker plays Billy Vance’s mistress.  Of course, she ends up falling for Thunderbird.

Fist Fighter is dumb but entertaining.  If Rivero’s role has been played by Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren, two action stars who could actually act as well as convincingly fight, Fist Fighter would probably be a cult classic.  As it is, it’s one of the more entertaining of the many rip-offs of Bloodsport.

“On Transit” : Max Morris Puts The Pedal To The Metal

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Originally self-published “way” back in 2017 but only now making its way in front of my eager eyes, Chicago cartooning legend Max Morris’ On Transit is an admirably rancid duo-tone nightmare very much in the Gary Panter tradition, albeit with perhaps an even more raw punk sensibility, and is a legit must-read item for anyone reliant upon the whims and vagaries of public transportation, particularly CTA buses — although the bus system of any major city works in a pinch as a substitute. And while the depiction of the ride herein is exaggerated for both comic and horrific effect, chances are good it’s going to ring true for most readers because, hey, most of us have been there and done that.

Like being a prison guard or a schoolteacher, driving a bus is one of those occupations where you’re better off admitting silently to yourself that the inmates are running…

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Film Review: Mister 880 (dir by Edmund Goulding)

First released in 1950, Mister 880 is a wonderful surprise.

The film opens like a typical 50s crime drama.  We’re told that counterfeiting is a serious crime and that the dedicated agents of the Secret Service are working very hard to try to wipe out the scourge of fake money. We’re also told that Mister 880 is based on a true story and that it was produced with the full cooperation of the U.S. Treasury Department.  As a result, modern viewers will probably be expecting Mister 880 to be a work of pro-government propaganda, where wholesome treasury agents track down and stop soulless thieves.  Instead, Mister 880 turns out to be a wonderfully charming portrait of a criminal who doesn’t mean to cause anyone any harm.

Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Buchanan, a Treasury agent who is well-known for never letting a case go.  He’s developed a personal obsession with tracking down a counterfeiter who, for the last ten years, has been passing phony one dollar bills around a certain New York neighborhood.  The Treasury Department has named him Mister 880.  Mister 880 is definitely an amateur.  The money that he prints is sloppy.  At the same time, he also only prints one dollar bills and it appears that he only does so on occasion.  Just as no one can figure out his identity, everyone is also baffled by his motivation.  If he was looking to get rich through printing his own money, he would surely print more than just  a bunch of sloppy one dollar bills.

Investigating the neighborhood that he believes to be Mister 880’s base of operations, Buchanan meets and falls in love with Ann Winslow (Dorothy McGuire).  He also happens to meet Ann’s neighbor, Skipper Miller (Edmund Gwenn).  Skipper is an elderly man, a Navy veteran who lives with a dog and who says that he is financially supported by a rich cousin who nobody has ever met.  Skipper is a junk dealer and he’s a genuinely nice man.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including Ann, loves Skipper.  Buchanan soon comes to like the old eccentric as well.

Of course, as you’ve probably already guessed, Skipper is the counterfeiter.  He is Mister 880.  He doesn’t mean to cause any harm, of course.  He only prints money when he absolutely needs to and he always makes sure to not use too much of it.  He doesn’t want to steal from anyone.  He’s just an elderly man who wants to live out his days in peace and who doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

When Buchanan discovers the truth about Skipper, he’s faced with a dilemma.  Skipper is hardly a master criminal but Buchanan has sworn an oath and he has a job to do.  Not making things any simpler is that Skipper doesn’t deny what he’s done and he also says that he’ll plead guilty to his crime because …. well, he is guilty.  Skipper’s not a liar, despite the fake money.  Both Buchanan and Ann know that Skipper won’t survive spending years behind bars.  What do you do with a man who has broken the law but who, at heart, is not really a criminal?  Can a crime be forgiven just because the man who committed it is really, really likable?

Mister 880 is a sweet-natured comedy, one that doesn’t necessarily argue that Skipper’s crime should have been forgiven but which, at the same time, does make the case that not all law-breakers are created equal.  Gwenn, who is best-known for playing Santa Claus in the original Miracle on 34th Street, gives a wonderful performance as Skipper.  It’s hard not to love Skipper.  It’s not just that Skipper doesn’t make any excuses for being a counterfeiter.  And it’s not just that Skipper is an eccentric who loves his dog and has his own unique way of looking at the world.  It’s that Skipper is just a genuinely kind man.  He’s someone who would rather go to prison than be too much of a burden to the people who he cares about.  He’s the sweetest criminal you could ever hope to meet.

Gwenn was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for his work in this film.  Not nominated but equally strong were Burt Lancaster and Dorothy McGuire.  Even though they don’t get any big, show-stopping moments like Gwenn does, both Lancaster and McGuire bring their characters to wonderful life and both do a great job of capturing their own mixed feelings about what should be done about Skipper.  Lancaster, in particular, is convincing as the by-the-book agent who is torn between his professional obligations and his feelings for both Ann and Skipper.

Mister 880 is one of my favorite movies, a wonderfully and unexpectedly good-hearted film about a real-life criminal who wasn’t the bad of a guy.  Emerich Juenetter, the real-life counterfeiter who served as the model for Skipper, reportedly made more money from the release of this film than he ever did over the course of his counterfeiting career.  After watching Mister 880, it’s hard not to feel that he earned every cent of it.