Archive for September, 2019

Described by writer/director Tony Pietra Arjuna as a “love letter to David Lynch,” 2019 Malaysian indie neo-noir thriller Shadowplay (now available to stream on Amazon and Vimeo — there’s probably a DVD and/or Blu-ray iteration to be found, as well, although I couldn’t comment on the specifics of such) certainly owes a stylistic debt to that eclectic auteur‘s work, particularly Mulholland Drive, but you’re likely to catch a fairly strong whiff of Gaspar Noe, Don Coscarelli, and even Orson Welles as the surreal, nearly free-associative narrative plays out herein, yet none of the heavy “borrowing” feels forced — nor, fortunately, does it prevent the end result from feeling reasonably fresh and original, if uneven.

Down-on-his luck P.I. protagonist Anton Shaw (played with a knowing wink and nod to classic cinematic gumshoes by Tony Eusoff) is haunted by incomplete memories of being kidnapped as a child — images of being separated from his mother weigh heavily on his mind, while the specifics of who took him and why remain sketchy at best — so when he takes on the case of missing college student Lamya Shahruddin (Juria Hartmans), it’s personal from the start. And it only becomes more personal the deeper he slides and/or sinks into the seedy criminal underbelly of Kuala Lampur.

If you grew up reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what Arjuna is going for, tonally and thematically, here — not only does Anton spend a good amount of time with his nose buried in a nameless, authorless volume that seems to offer endless possibilities but few answers, his investigation plays out in much the same manner, one potential clue or red herring following on from another with little to differentiate the two. Which is well and good, of course — nobody wants to know which is which too terribly early in the proceedings — but it does mean that the non-linear script takes some time to congeal and provide a clear idea of what’s really going on (or not). If you frustrate easily, then, this film will probably frustrate you often, as well.

Still, a number of strong supporting performances, in addition to a slick starring turn from Eusoff, will probably keep even the ADHD crowd feeling reasonably engaged with what’s happening on their screens — Susan Lankester, Megat Shrizal, and Stepehen Raman Hughes make the most of their screen time as characters who may (or, ya know, may not) have something to hide, and Radhi Khalid is fairly well riveting as The Gaunt Man, a figure that’s as mysterious as the name (okay, title) sounds. When the specifics and lack thereof falter, then, the actors charged with fleshing them out pick up the slack — and as a result, for a slow-moving film, events actually seem to move along at a pretty healthy clip.

A pulsating score provided by synthpop outfit called Stellar Dreams, and Praveen Kumar’s neon-washed cinematography, put a moody exclamation point on the film’s well-realized atmospherics, and the Kuala Lampur board of tourism could do worse than distributing this around to potential vacation-goers with a taste for the dark side. You may not always know what’s going on here — nor, for the record, should you — but you’ll be mightily impressed by the extent to which Arjuna makes the city he’s filming in an actual character in his story, and one you’d like to get to know better, at that.

But like everything and everyone else in Shadowplay, you only get to know it as well as you need to for the director’s purposes. Arjuna has a bit of a way to go when it comes to backing up his style with some more substance, but he’s shown with this that he’s just about that there and that he’s got the knowledge, skills, and intuition to arrive there fully in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, he’s got a production he can be damn proud of under his belt with this one, and one you’d do very well to give a look.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Your support there also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics blog, so please take a moment to give it a look.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here yo go :


If you’re gonna call your movie American Scumbags, you’ve put yourself in a position where you’ve got to live up (or should that be down?) to that name. Fortunately, Denver underground filmmaker Dakota Bailey — who not only wrote and directed the 2016 production he put that title on, but stars in it under the pseudonym of Dakota Ray — seems to know of which he speaks, and has his finger firmly on the pulse of the world of sleazoids and sickos. In other words, he’s our kind of guy.

Filmed — okay, shot on cam — for the princely sum of $1,000 and recently made available for streaming on Amazon Prime (don’t ask me about its availability on Blu-ray or DVD, I honestly have no idea), this thing feels pretty grimy and follows the lives of three pretty grimy figures whose stories are interlinked in ways obvious and less so : psycho con Billy (played by Darrien Fawkes), drug lord Chester (Fred Epstein), and low-rent dealer/hit man Johnny (Bailey/Ray). None of ’em are likable, all of ’em are disreputable as shit, and the unprofessionalism of the performers is a real asset in each of their cases, as they come off as being seriously fucking real people. Just not the kind of “real people” you’d ever want to know — which is rather the point here.

That being said, if drive-in/grindhouse revivalism isn’t your bag (in which case, what are you doing reading this site?), you might not find a whole lot to latch onto in this flick. There are no “heroes” to be found, there are no empathetic moments for everyone to relate to, and there damn sure isn’t going to be anything like a “happy ending” for anybody. But so what? If you’ve ever known an “American scumbag” yourself — even at a safe remove — you’re going to recognize this film’s over-arching great strength right from the outset, that being its rock-solid authenticity.

There’s some really solid work turned in by the supporting cast here, as well — I’m going to give a special nod to Bianca Valentino for her turn as Angel (you can probably guess her occupation) — and perhaps the most impressive thing about Bailey’s entire dime-store opus is the fact that no one here appears to think they’re “slumming it,” despite the fact that the characters they play are doing nothing but. There’s a violent undercurrent to these peoples’ lives — even when there’s no overt violence taking place on the screen — and while the Tarantino comparisons are probably going to be inevitable, there’s no stylish sheen to any of this. It’s the real, raw deal — right from the streets and into your living room.

So, yeah, consider me impressed — Bailey has an intuitive understanding of how to best use his lack of resources to his advantage, his cast is way better than it probably has any right to be, his cinematography is suitably gritty, his story is a no-bullshit account of underworld life, and his editing ties the whole thing together seamlessly. This is a movie I could easily see myself checking out again and again over the years, precisely because it offers a privileged glimpse into a world I’m damn glad I have nothing to do with.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mind visiting it, though.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar per month. At that price you’ve got nothing to lose, and your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics site, so please give it a look, won’t you?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :