It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

Watching diary 2021, #6

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Yet more Aussie crime shows. Water Rats, this time, which is about the Sydney Water Police, although they seem to get involved in all sorts of crimes. Part of the fun is spotting faces and then figuring out where you first saw them. And it’s not always another Aussie police series. One minor character turned out to be a major character from Canadian series The Murdoch Mysteries a decade or so later. And Claudia Black plays the cheating wife of the victim in another episode. Amazon Prime have also done the usual and screwed up the seasons, not only broadcasting them in the wrong order, but even mis-numbering and misnaming them. So Season 4 Episode 13 ‘Double Play’, according to Amazon Prime, turns out to actually be Season 3 Episode 14 ‘Soft Target’. While not a problem normally, both of the two principal detectives are away for several episodes at different times, so others fill in – and it’s all bit random which of those replacement partners is going to appear in the next episode. Not to mention episodes referencing events in episodes that have yet to be shown. Amazon’s curation of their data is piss-poor. Sooner or later, it will be their undoing. Assuming anyone actually gives a shit about accuracy or facts or even truth by then…

Haywire, Steven Soderbergh (2011, USA). Soderbergh is sort of like an auteur but not really an auteur. He makes films as if he were an auteur but he makes resolutely commercial films. If Terence Malick has amassed so much influence he can make the films he wants in Hollywood, then Soderbergh can do the same… as long as the films are commercial. In Haywire, Gina Carano – you know, the Trumpist actor who got fired from The Mandalorian for tweeting fascist shit – plays a US government assassin who is specifically recruited for a protection job, only for it to go horribly wrong, and then certain other things happen, which persuade her everyone is out to kill her. It’s all completely implausible, but Soderbergh is a safe pair of hands and the end result is a polished thriller. Apparently, he wanted the fight scenes to be as realistic as possible… and it works. A good cast – except for Carano; let’s not ignore someone’s shitty views just because they were involved in a project you liked – and a convoluted plot, although not too convoluted, and good action sequences. You could watch worse.

I Vinti, Michelangelo Antonioni (1952, Italy). The film opens with an assortment of scans of newspaper stories apparently showing the lawlessness of the immediately post-war youth. The newspapers look genuine, and the three stories which make up the film are apparently based on true stories… but it’s all very lurid and sensationalised, and even the fact it’s by Antonioni can’t really make much of such thin material. The first is set in France. A pair of teenage boys – although these are 1950s teenagers, so they look like they’re in their late twenties – shoot a friend who claims to have buried treasure. The second takes place in Italy, and concerns a youth involved in smuggling cigarettes. The third, set in the UK, is the most interesting. A young man finds a murdered woman’s body on a nearby common, and uses it to get himself in the newspapers. Eventually, he admits he murdered the woman, but only after his new-found fame as the body’s discoverer has failed to earn him the admiration of the young ladies. I was somewhat surprised the man was allowed to write his own story for the newspapers. Seems extremely unlikely. One for completists.

Il merlo maschio, Pasquale Festa Campanile (1970, Italy). The image depicted on the poster for this film is pretty much all I can really remember from this movie – a fevered dream in which the protagonist, a cellist in an orchestra, played his wife’s naked body instead of his instrument at a concert. The cellist’s career is stalling, his conductor picks on him repeatedly… but he finds solace in his wife’s appearance. His wife’s naked appearance. Only in Italy. And only in the 1970s…. The cellist’s fantasies grow ever more lurid, and his wife seems content to go along – and everything climaxes at a concert where the cellist’s wife is accidentally disrobed. The words “Italian sex comedy” generally indicate a film is definitely to be avoided, especially when it was made in either the 1960s or 1970s. Much like “British sex comedy”. Sadly, Il merlo maschio is pretty much a textbook example.

Shree 420, Raj Kapoor (1955, India). The “420” refers the section of the Indian Penal code for “cheating”, much like advance-fee frauds are known as 419s after the Nigerian Criminal Code section number. The director plays a country bumpkin – modelled on Chaplin’s Little Tramp – who moves to Mumbai and ends up a con man after falling in with the wrong crowd. But this is a Bollywood film, so there has to be a boys-meets-girl, etc, plot, and here, Kapoor meets the love of his life on his way to Mumbai, but she rejects him when she learns he’s defrauding the poor. Of course, he eventually sees the error of his ways and wins back his lady love. This is classic rom com Bollywood (rather than cast-of-thousands historical epic Bollywood) at its best, and the signature song, which is performed twice, ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani’ (‘My Shoes are Japanese’), is definitely one of the catchiest Bollywood songs I’ve heard.

Slave of the Cannibal Gods, Sergio Martino (1978, Italy). Yet another Shameless release available on Amazon Prime. I’ve no idea how many I’ve watched so far, but it must be at least thirty or forty. I only rate three or four of them, which is not a particularly good hit ratio, but most are worth seeing at least once. Except perhaps not this one. Ursula Andress plays the wife of an anthropologist who disappeared while on an expedition in New Guinea. She arranges with a local anthropologist, played by Stacy Keach, to retrace her husband’s movements… Which leads them to a sacred island. Which all the locals are too scared to visit. For good reason. The title is a clue. But not fearless Ursula! You can guess the rest. This film is from the lower end of the Shameless gialli releases, and even though it was filmed in Sri Lanka, and so the scenery looks convincing, it’s hammy stuff. One for fans.

To the Wire, Károly Ujj Mészáros (2018, Hungary). Amazon Prime insists on recommending the latest shit Hollywood movies to me, despite the fact I don’t watch them, but there’s some good stuff available on the platform. It just takes a fuck of a lot of searching. I don’t recall how I found this Hungarian thriller, but it was a good find. A detective with severe anxiety issues is called to help when it looks like two murders are connected. Except it seems there are several more, and so a serial killer must be operating in Budapest. To the Wire (AKA X or The eXploited; the Hungarian original title apparently translates as X – Deleted from the System) was clearly inspired by David Fincher’s Se7en, but actually presents a story that is very much tied in with the country’s culture and recent history. This isn’t serial killer murders people because psychopathology – as pretty much all such US films are. Here, the victims were killed, and their deaths staged as suicides, for a solid reason. The film has a dark washed-out look in keeping with its story, and most scenes open with aerial upside shots of the city. An interesting, if overly quirky, lead, a solid serial killer mystery, a resolution that’s specific to Hungary and its recent history, and good cinematography. Definitely worth tracking down.

The Daughter, Simon Stone (2015, Australia). A man who has lived in the US for decades returns to Australia for his father’s second marriage – to his much younger housekeeper. The “American” is a reformed alcoholic, but events in Australia drive him back to drink. It’s all to do with the daughter of his best mate, and the identity of her real father. The American’s father owns the local mill, the town’s single biggest employer, and it has just declared bankruptcy, which has created a lot of bad feeling. Mostly a small Australian town drama – where the one big false note is when the two blokes head to the nearest big town, end up in pub near the university, and are later picked up by two female uni students. A strong cast – Sam Neill is excellent as the crotchety granddad, Geoffrey Rush is under-used as the mill-owner, and Anna Torv mostly sleepwalks through her role as the housekeeper/bride-to-be. The rest were pretty much unknown to me.

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