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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Heist > Action > Thriller > Murder > Western > South Africa > Film Noir > Mystery > Action > Fishy Stones (1990)/Gone Crazy (1983)/Umbango (1985/all IndiePix DVDs)/The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950/Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)/Reprisal (2018/Lionsgate Blu-ray)

Fishy Stones (1990)/Gone Crazy (1983)/Umbango (1985/all IndiePix DVDs)/The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950/Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)/Reprisal (2018/Lionsgate Blu-ray)

Picture: C/C/C/B & C+/B+ Sound: C/C/C/B- & C+/B+ Extras: C-/C-/C-/B-/C Films: C+/C+/C+/B-/C

Here's a new group of genre films, most of which come to us in unusual ways...

We start with a group of films nearly lost among many and made during the brutally repressive decides of apartheid in South Africa by those of color. How this managed to succeed is some kind of untold story in itself, yet it existed and now, the films are starting to be found (those that somehow survived in some form) and are being released by the IndiePix company for all of us to see. The length of B-movies in most cases, these films have the independent spirit, made with limited funds and for a love of movies.

Tonie Van Der Merwe's Fishy Stones (1990) is an amusing diamond heist film where the heist goes wrong and the nitwits who blundered (Popo Gumede and Hector Mathanda, who make a good team here) land up having to go on the run and the more they run, the worse their situation gets. Can they keep any of the gems left and not get caught or turned in? It lasts only about 70 minutes and it is not very polished, but cheers for the energy they bring to it and the glimpse of a cinema that was somewhat underground.

Tony Cunningham's Gone Crazy (1983) is a thriller with a daring title as a madman steals a bomb that he intends to set off to kill as many people as possible (within his own town, not necessarily in the segregated white section of South Africa, yet you never know who will get killed by any bomb and that is a film they obviously could not make without a possible death penalty) so can he be caught or even detected? In this case, the line of suspense that comedy and thrillers share is pushed a bit here in interesting ways and if they had had more than 73 minutes and more money, this could have been possibly a groundbreaking work. Still, it too is worth a look.

For now, the last entry we have here is Tonie Van Der Merwe with an earlier entry, Umbango (1985) that is an attempt to do a Western (particularly Spaghetti Westerns, which was a more derogatory term when first coined) with a limited budget more so than Leone and company could have ever dreamed of. The good news is that the Western was dead by the time this was made, so he gets to remake the genre by default simply by it coming from a part of the world new to the rest of the world.

Mind you, realize that the few Westerns made at this time (post Heaven's Gate, the late end of the genre's original run starting in 1939) were Pale Rider and Silverado, so they had little to lose and versus the overly polished cycle of bad, mostly straight-to-video Westerns we're seeing now, this looks more like the real thing than you might expect. Though essentially a Revenge Western, it tries to do as much as it can to be as fun as any of them. Popo Gumede leads the cast here too, running 68 minutes.

A trailer is the only extra on each entry, but if we get more, I'll expect more interesting twisting of familiar genres and maybe a surprise or two.

Felix E. Feist's The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950) is a very dark Film Noir produced by Jack Warner's son Jack M. Warner (like his brothers, Jack Sr. did not get along with his son, but this was more up front) in a twisted tale of a cop (Lee J. Cobb as a very spiteful, conceited, unlikable guy like nothing he ever acted in) who is having an affair with a beautiful woman (Jane Wyatt, easily at her coldest ever, making for a creepily deadly pair without trying much) who is married. When she accidentally shoots him to death, he helps her cover up, but neither expects his brother (John Dall) to be on the case as a fellow cop. Suddenly, he has to try and fool his own brother to cover up murder and the situation gets worse and worse.

Hopefully, Warner the producer was not making a (prophetic?) statement about his father, but it is a well acted, written and directed film despite a few flaws and down moment or two. Flicker Alley and company have done an amazing job of saving the film and was in even better shape than I expected. Everyone should see this one at least once.

Extras include an illustrated booklet with solid text info, including on the extensive illustrations and a Dedication at the beginning, while both disc versions (as the press release rightly states) adds The Man Who Cheated Himself Revisited: Produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation, this mini-documentary offers a behind-the-scenes examination of the film's original production, The Man Who Cheated Himself Locations - Then and Now: City Sleuth (aka Brian Hollins) leads a virtual tour around San Francisco hunting down the many locations used during the production of The Man Who Cheated Himself and a Restored Theatrical Trailer: Brand-new restoration of the original theatrical trailer.

Finally, Bruce Willis and Frank Grillo star in this average 'cops and robbers' flick, Reprisal (2018), which is just now making its way onto home video. Reprisal (2018) centers around an ex-cop (Willis) who joins up with a bank manager (Grillo) to catch an uncatchable bank robber.

Of course the Robber ends up kidnapping the manager's trophy wife (Olivia Culpo) and his diabetic daughter (Natali Yura) and he has to get her back... but can the power of Bruce Willis' badassery help save the day?

The film is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless mix, both of which are of the norm for the format. The film looks and sounds fine on Blu-ray with a professional and cinematic look and a mostly cool blue color palette. A digital copy is also included.

Special Features include...

Making Reprisal Featurette

Cast/Crew Interviews

and a Trailer.

Reprisal has a few cool moments, namely the bank robbery sequences, but at the end of day just feels like another average Bruce Willis flick.

As for playback performance on the rest of the releases, the 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer (centered in a 1.78 X 1 frame) can sometimes show the age of the materials used, but it tends to look better like it was a studio release (Fox was the distributor at the time, but did not retain the rights) than an orphan film. Expect softness in some shots, though. Add PCM 2.0 Mono sound sounding as good as it can for a theatrical monophonic sound film of its time and the combination is solid. The DVD is much softer and the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sounds older despite being fro the same restored source, so the Blu-ray works better as expected.

The three full color anamorphically enhanced 1.33 X 1 (in 1.78 X 1) images on the South African films are soft, aged and show flaws throughout due to barely surviving, including a few places where it looks like analog videotape (where applicable) flaws including video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, (PAL?) cross color, faded color and tape damage. Otherwise it is watchable enough, though the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is weak and shows the age (and maybe how the sound is a generation or two down?) and limited budget of the sound recording. To be on the safe side, be careful of high volume playback and volume switching.

- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart



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