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Fishy Stones (Retro Afrika)
Fishy Stones is one of the films in Indiepix's new Retro Afrika series, which consists of low-budget motion pictures made in Apartheid-era South Africa, when the region has no access to Hollywood movies. These independent productions provide a fascinating look into the ways South African filmmakers took the tropes and style of popular genre pictures and translated or recreated them for Cape Town audiences. Nearly 50 movies from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s have been found and given a digital restoration, with most of them prepared for Indiepix's Amazon Prime channel, while three of the movies (Fishy Stones, Gone Crazy, and Umbango) have also been given DVD-R MOD releases through Amazon.
Gone Crazy was the weakest of the three offered up on disc, padded with inane and repetitive dialogue, unnecessary characters, and a near complete lack of interesting material. Fishy Stones is a significant improvement on Gone Crazy, while still not being very good. Although the movie has slightly better pacing and a marginally better story, there's still a sloppiness to the filmmaking that has nothing to do with the resources or talent involved, and simply comes down to laziness, both in terms of continuity and coherency. For example, Robert and Makhosi have an extended conversation about David and Alex that is entirely predicated on one being fat and the other being skinny, but both actors cast in those roles are skinny. Another scene has them discussing the tossing of the jewels, and while the dialogue is functional enough, the two performers seem to have gotten their roles mixed up, as the wrong person takes credit for throwing the jewels out and marking the plastic bag they were thrown out in.
The movie also has some of the same problems with repetition that plagued Gone Crazy, even if it has less. The scene discussing the "fat one" and "skinny one" is all filler, meaningless wheel spinning before the Robert and Makhosi enter David and Alex's camp. Once again, characters stand around discussing matters of great urgency -- in this case, nearly a minute is spent talking about the need for David and Alex to slip away immediately before Robert and Makhosi return rather than the characters just leaving. The movie's climax features some inexplicable blocking, with characters simply standing around, in the frame, while other characters have a fistfight.
That said, some of the filmmaking is relatively impressive. The film opens with a decently-staged car chase featuring some classic low-to-the-ground shots that are impressive even as director Tonie van der Merwe leans on them repeatedly. The chase eventually extends into dirt roads and foresty areas that give the scene a unique feeling. It may sound like sort of a stretch, but the film has genuinely clever opening titles, typed out live on a typewriter. The movie also basically delivers on its simple premise, even if there is a sense that Robert and Makhosi's bantering is meant to be much funnier than it is. As with the other films in the Retro Afrika series, the movie is an interesting cultural artifact, if nothing else, and deserves to be preserved as a part of international film history.
Of the three cover images created for these Retro Afrika DVDs, Fishy Stones gets the shortest end of the stick, using a comic book style that feels a little simplistic. The one-disc DVD-R comes in a cheap Amaray case, and there is an insert inside the case promoting Amazon Prime access to more of the Retro Afrika and Indiepix libraries, as well as an offer for a free movie on the other side.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, Fishy Stones looks and sounds decent, given the context of its age and origins. The picture is on the soft side, and colors look a little anemic, but the image is still remarkably clear and detailed for a "lost" movie. There is also a pretty impressive absence of print damage or any sort of source-based distortions (including a lack of the color fluctuations that plagued Gone Crazy). The source sound for this one is also generally better, with voices less affected by the environment, even if there is still a slightly fuzzy quality to the recordings. Music sounds fine (and may in fact be reused synth score from Gone Crazy). English subtitles are provided.
None, other than a newly-created trailer.
Fishy Stones is the middle ground among the three Retro Afrika titles offered on DVD, but it's still not especially great. At most, rent it.
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