In lockdown, SBS’s World Movies, a twenty-four hour movie channel on digital 32, takes on a new significance. Treated by critics, enthusiasts and possibly its programmers as a collection of entertainments that didn’t make the cut or an unwelcome increase in the work load, this lot has become a kind of Salon des Refusés. If you slog through them, your take on popular entertainment shifts.
I’ve already commented on the neglect of the new Euro Western - Blackthorn or Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers, the latter being one which never got past a glancing encounter with the festival circuit here, though it’s big in Europe. Kristian Levring’s 2014 The Salvation joins them.
Attention getting opening titles with lettering on de-focussed scenes of the train pulling in to the period Western station that could be in Heaven’s Gate to go sharp as Danish soldier Mads Mikklesen, back from fighting the Germans, steps into frame.
With brother Mikael Persbrandt, he’s collecting wife Nanna Øland Fabricius and the ten year old son to whom he has to be introduced. A pair of rowdies pile into the coach taking them to the plains home Mads has extended. it’s not long before our hero is pounding through the black cloud night on the vengeance trail.
I remember the activist movie where their expert tells us the male rape in Deliverancegets retribution not seen for violence to women in films. Geesus - Revenge for a Rape, Last Train from Gun Hill, Rancho Notorious (“Son, she was spared nothing.”). Go to the movies feller!
Cut to thundering hooves and local heavy Jeffrey Dean Morgan demands the lives of two frontier town citizens in compensation for the death of his kin. He’s not satisfied with a granny who spits on him and the legless man sheriff-preacher Douglas Henshall and mayor–coffin maker Jonathon Pryce select and shoots a family man as well.
There’s more going on here. Morgan (“You can’t use the same methods you used on the Indians!”) is in the pay of the company buying up the sticky oilfield titles.
Turned in by Henshall, Mads is left to die of exposure hanging on a post in a burnt out town in front of Morgan’s former County Bank building headquarters while Morgan is delighted to take care of his brother’s accountant-widow, unsmiling one time Bond Girl Eva Green whose tongue the Indians cut out. That doesn’t work out so, at Top Hand Eric Cantona’s suggestion, he says “Once you’ve all had your way of her, cut her throat.”
Mads disposes of the bad hats - shot, incinerated or stabbed in the eye. Things become bleak beyond credibility by the time we get to the would be terse confrontation with Henshall‘s posse. Spotting Green, the townsman pull back jackets over their side arms and it’s “You don’t want to go down that road John ... may the lord have mercy on both your souls.” Dissolve to the area covered with wooden oil derricks.
They just about get away with their idea of old west and English dialogue but the accumulating grimness and another hammered superhuman hero finally strip away the piece’s dignity. Still...
I’d only caught a few glimpses of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character, who appeared a decade after Dabney Coleman’s great Buffalo Bill series aced the obnoxious broadcaster format without creating the same fan following, but I enjoyed the Partridge telemovie Alpha Papa in the Channel 32 line up.
We pick up Coogan/Partridge hosting Norwich Digital Radio’s "Mid-Morning Matters." Panic has gripped the station as a new board takes charge. “People people sack people.” Particularly concerned is fellow broadcaster Colm Meany/Pat Farrell whom Coogan re-assures, promising to go into the meeting and speak for him only to find they are making a decision on which of them to let go. Soon he’s daubing “Just sack Pat” on the white board.
Stepping out of the party welcoming the new management that night, our hero goes back to find the station deserted and a shotgun blast smashing through the door glass near his head. Meany has put the operation under siege.
Bolting, Coogan is taken on by the police (“Which was your favourite siege?") as their negotiator and sent in finding himself co-hosting on air with Meany, playing material produced by the captive board, who prove to have all manner of ignored talents. Meany discovers his believed friend’s treachery and Coogan loses his pants climbing through a window only to get a live from the scene TV opportunity. In a shoot–up police raid, the pair end again on air from Norwich pier in the party coloured outside broadcast van. Coogan only to just escape being defecated on (“It’s a septic tank” you can have it if you want”) to face Meany’s shot gun with a gypsy sabotaged air rifle.
Nice coda where they pair profit from their new, siege-inspired celebrity.
It actually works with Alan Partridge even becoming more endearing as he goes on making the worst possible choices. He’s particularly awful with women, kissing the uniformed siege commander on both cheeks or trying to calm his dowdy woman P.A. with the offer of coffee as she snaps back into character asking “How do you take it?”
This has been seen as following the trajectory of the Till Death Do Us Part and Are You Being Served movies. It has the same bad taste gags but the big screen handling here is good as director Declan Lowney foregrounds the tackiness of British regional radio and is not above digressions like the rhythmic close ups of the girl assistant’s scarlet Hot Pants or Coogan instinctively channel surfing his I Phone in a crisis.
Wild City, an unfamiliar movie by the late Ringo Lam looked considerably more promising. Lam was the Don Seigel of Hong Kong Cinema in its great eighties days. His Chow Yun-fat thrillers City On Fire, Wild Search and Full Contact outclassed those of John Woo but when they both deserted the former colony to head up Jean-Claude Van Damme punch-up pieces it was Woo who shot ahead in Hollywood and the mainland.
A Ringo Lam movie, made in 2015 after a twelve year absence, was something to be approached with enthusiasm and maybe trepidation. As it turned out neither were merited.
Wild City is a competent Chinese cop movie and occasionally more than that. However, there’s little to connect it to the director’s best work.
Climbing into her blue Maserati, drunken Liya Wong has a near miss with bar owner Louis Koo, and trying to do the right thing, he takes her home to sober up with his stepmum chubby Qiu Yuen.
The film’s form is its most interesting feature as it fills us in on these characters’ back stories with monochrome and desaturated flashbacks. We get frame within the frame, in the best Léonce Perret manner, from inserted iPhone images, surveillance cameras and once frame within the frame within the frame as the police analyse security footage.
Turns out Koo quit Simon Lam’s police department to avoid taking down half-brother Shawn Yue. Wong decided to make off with the case full of cash when she found she was part of the package in a deal her low life lawyer–lover Michael Tse set up. The thugs trying to hunt her down are a group of Taiwanese heavies who can’t go home again. They enquire whether the brothers have Triad affiliations they have to respect when they get into a punch-up. The repeated notion of loyalty is a surprise element of the film.
The Taiwanese gang try to give a dead brother a dignified funeral though all they can manage is to bury his body in waste land. He was chopped up by a speed boat propeller, churning the water red, and a gang supplier gets a beating from Koo in an empty public lavatory, ending bloody in the trough. The film is not short on ultra-violence.
There are also effective action passages. The case proving unexpectedly hard to retrieve from the Harbour, being full of gold bars, needs the use of a frogman outfit. The repeated chases are vigorously staged to an impressive climax with the escaper’s car crashing through a store parking and into the top of a double deck bus. Repeated cutaways to the Hong Kong High rise sky line front the city as a home to big time corruption but the ending where a blast smashes the statue’s scales of justice is a bit much. Wild City - we already got it guys.
Handsomely produced and fielding plausible one dimensional performances this one gets by but it never involves like the old Ringo Lam movies - which is a disappointment.
These are all what we might expect checking through boxes of five dollar DVDs when there were boxes of five dollar DVDs. Round the clock showings of movies that no one assesses or documents really should be a chance to air more challenging material. Would it be so much extra trouble and expense to field the backlogs of Antonio Resines, Jacky Wu or Mohamed Henedy and give us stay at home movie freaks something to talk about, maybe actually extend our understanding of cinema?