Thursday, February 25, 2010

Larceny (1948)

Dir: George Sherman
SIFF Theater

A fast paced film about con men that are trying to swindle a war widow out of money by building a phony war memorial. It features a top notch cast lead by John Payne, Dan Duryea doing his best at being Dan Duryea, and Shelley Winters in one of her best performances ever as Duryea's girlfriend that is secretly with Payne. The story is incredibly tight even if it's slightly predictable. Working with a script by Bowers, Sherman has very little to do to make this one a home run, but helps it along by making a quickly paced picture. Like many other noir leads, John Payne came from a song and dance background which helps him to be a sympathetic bad guy. Fun fact: Payne was apparently the first person to buy the rights to James Bond novel and planned on playing him, obviously this wasn't to come to fruition. A travesty that this, along with most of the others at the festival, is not available on DVD.
Another great print and presentation to end the first double feature, and I had a better seat since some of the audience left.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pitfall (1948)

Dir: Andre De Toth
SIFF Theater

The first film shown this year at the Noir City Film Fest and the first of four that featured the writing of Bill Bowers, the revelation of the experience for me. While Bowers' name wasn't credited on every film or it was a shared credit, there was no mistaking his witty, rapid dialog. Not only was it some of the most memorable writing I have seen in a long time, it just wasn't clever for it's own sake, all the dialog was character specific. The story of Pitfall follows an insurance man (played by Dick Powell who also produced in a successful attempt to change his image) that is bored with his routine. He meets Lizabeth Scott's Mona Stevens and is smitten. He decides to break the rules of his job and also withholds some key information from her, like that he's married to Sue (Jane Wyatt) and has a son. To complicate matters even further, Raymond Burr plays a private eye that is obsessed with Mona and is a violent goon with a sadistic streak. What set this apart from alot of others in the genre, was the fact that Lizabeth Scotts' character would normally be portrayed as the femme fatale that gets Dick Powell into all kinds of trouble, but here it is the opposite. Once Mona Stevens finds out Powell's insurance man is married, she immediately ends the relationship, it is Powell's bad decisions that forces the action. If I had any complaints, it's that De Toth tells the story almost exclusively in medium close-ups and a lot of the conversations look like a tennis match of back and forth editing.
The print looked great and the whole presentation was excellent with Eddie Muller introducing the movie with tons of great info.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Big Combo (1955)

Dir: Joseph H. Lewis

I actually watched this about a week ago, but the next day I left for Seattle for the Noir City Film Fest, so I never got a chance to post anything on it. I had seen this one before and was very fond of it, I was glad to see my memory and opinion of it held up well. Cornel Wilde plays a cop that has it out for Richard Conte's Mr. Brown, a guy with a lot of money and power, and Wilde wants to know how he got it. Wilde is willing to do just about anything to catch Conte up to no good, but has had almost no success over the years. His boss is ready to pull his budget and he tells Wilde to move on. Wilde finally gets a chance at Conte when his dame, Susan, attempts suicide and says a little too much in a weakened state. (In an interesting side note, Susan is played by Jean Wallace who herself attempted suicide twice in the 1940's and then later went on to marry star Cornel Wilde in 1951, the two stayed together for thirty years.) A name Susan gives is enough to uncover a murder plot to keep Wilde's character going. Conte is pitch perfect as Brown delivering a powerhouse of a speech to a boxer he has interest in that sets the tone for the film and tells you everything you need to know about his character. The most memorable scenes, however, involve Brian Donlevy and his hearing aid, just watch it. Lewis is best known for Gun Crazy (1950), but in many ways, I prefer this film. Gun Crazy is often cited for it's association of sex to violence, with The Big Combo, Lewis hints at a desire to explore homosexuality as it has been cited that two supporting characters, played by Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman, seem to be in a relationship. Even though they are muscle that kill for Mr. Brown, they are shown as being a fiercely loyal duo with a suggestion of a positive coupling, making the film all the more interesting.
The movie is available from at least three sources, I have only seen the Image disc. The transfer is solid if not perfect and the other two are from Geneon and Alpha, this makes me believe the reviews I have read that state that this is the only edition worth watching. There are no extra features and the disc is out of print, but if you're interested in this one or already a fan, I would pay the extra for the Image disc.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Night Train Murders (1975)

Dir: Aldo Lado
Blue Underground DVD

In general, I think horror films are made for escapist viewing. They provide a sort of catharsis for things we internalize and can help us overcome fears. Audiences tend to laugh at violent moments, often to relieve tension, and at the end of the day, we feel safe and head off to bed. Lado's Night Train Murders does absolutely nothing to support this generalization. This is often mentioned as Euro sleaze and does contain sequences that are most definitely sleazy. But to write this film off as mere exploitation is to do it a great disservice. While it's not a movie I would recommend, to anyone!!, it just may be the most effective movie of it's kind ever made. If you're familiar with Bergman's The Virgin Spring or Craven's The Last House on the Left, then you can tell where this film is headed from the start. We see two thugs mugging a Santa and causing chaos intermingled with two young girls heading home for the winter break so obviously the two duo's are on a collision course. The variation on the story is that it takes place on a train and that the two thugs are just that, hoodlums. That is until they meet an educated, affluent, middle-classed woman that feeds her own depravity by directing the boys into increasingly disturbing acts involving the college girls. What makes the film both repulsive and impressive, is just how shockingly competent a director Lado is. Not once could you possibly laugh or make a joke about what is happening on screen. In this respect it is the exact opposite movie that Last House on the Left is, which may be the most incompetent movie ever made. Director Lado states in the interview accompanying the film, that he has never seen Craven's film and doesn't mention Bergman's at all! If this is true, it makes Craven's film that much worse. Now the film follows all of the same plot points, including the ending where the villains accidentally run into the parents of one of the victims. Revenge is exacted, but not in such a way where we as the audience feel satisfied, merely the futility of the situation. Lado flips our own wants and expectations by making the real villain the middle-class, where the woman on the train and a well-to-do gent, that passes by and participates in the horrible deeds, are the real reason for all the violence but feel and act that they are above being held accountable. We never get true justice, just more senseless violence. Credit certainly has to go to Lado for getting his point across but the final piece is incredibly difficult to watch. As I stated, I could never recommend this to someone, but if you're in to remakes of The Virgin Spring, then don't pass this one up.
The difficulty in watching the horrendous violence perpetrated upon the girls makes this one difficult to assign a numerical rating too, so I'll give a slight cop-out and just drop it in the middle.


Quest For Fire (1981)

Dir: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Fox Movie Channel

I have always been fascinated by films and filmmakers that could create story without the use of dialog. Dassin's Rififi and Svankmajer's Conspirators of Pleasure come to mind as two of the best examples. This film certainly would fall into this category as their is no spoken dialog that is recognizable. In case you're unaware of this one, it's about a clan of cavemen that lose their fire to another more primitive looking clan and then must send three of their own on a, you guessed it, QUEST FOR FIRE! Everett McGill (Big Ed from Twin Peaks!) and Ron Perlman star as two of the neanderthals that must avoid saber-tooth tigers, fight other cro-mags, and tame woolly mammoths on their journey for precious flame. Where the other films succeed is in their ability to tell a gripping story and create tension without the need for words at all. Quest for Fire's story is so easy to follow, that aspect of the film is not all that interesting. The more interesting thing is that novelist Anthony Burgess was brought in to create the cavemen's grunts. It's certainly not a bad movie but at some points can't help but feel like an overly long gimmick.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Pigs & Battleships (1961)

Dir: Shohei Imamura
Criterion DVD

This is the story of Kinta, the lowest man on the Yakuza totem pole in a town built around the largest American Naval base near Tokyo in post-war Japan. Kinta's job is to take care of the pigs, whose fate and ownership always seem to be in question. Kinta's girlfriend is Haruko. She wants Kinta to run away with her and get a low-paying but respectable factory job some where so they can leave this life of filth and crime, where Haruko's own mother pushes her to be a prostitute or mistress to an American officer. Kinta, however, wants no part in a factory job and yearns to be a band manager or pimp, as these things are held in higher regard by his peers. Imamaura portrays the Americans as brutes and morons that have no concern for the Japanese people while the Japanese are portrayed as petty, bickering back-stabbers that can only aspire to more fruitful lives of crime. Haruko is the only main character with a sensible head and even she makes some decisions that she must persevere through before taking matters into her own hands. This is a recurring theme with Imamura and one of his best traits, his ability to create women characters that can overcome their situations. Imamura is a masterful director that can inject a bit of dark humor into these depressing situations without undermining the intent. Things are so bad for these people that what else is there to do sometimes except to laugh? The title Pigs & Battleships can be taken at face value but is also a metaphor for how the Japanese are being treated. They are actually trying to buy food scraps from the battleships to eat. Imamura frames the scenes in village, and chose to use a telephoto lens in close-ups, to give a real sense of claustrophobia, like these characters are living in pens themselves.
This disc is part of the Pigs, Pimps, and Prostitutes set from Criterion and I believe it's essential viewing. This disc has an hour long documentary on the director from French television and an interview/ analysis about his specific film with critic Tony Rayns.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Serious Man (2009)

Dir: The Coen Brothers
Universal DVD

Once upon a time, the Coen Brothers seemed like a mischievous secret to me. They made the kind of films that grandparents couldn't understand and geeks could quote til you wanted to vomit. With A Serious Man, I felt like I was watching a movie by guys that got old and lost their sense of absurdity that made them so unique. Gone were jokes about video artists and in their place were jokes about draining a sist or getting high at a Bat Mitzvah, yawn. The movie concerns itself with the destruction and re-construction of a Jewish family in the late sixties. The characters are all pitiful, pathetic, and selfish. It has been said that the film is semi-autobiographical. If that's true, this may be one of the most depressing films of all time and truly an exercise in cynicism. All this sounds like I really hated the movie, but mostly I was just disappointed in how uninvolved I was at every moment. It was like breathing or drinking water, totally forgettable.


House of the Devil (2009)

Dir: Ti West
Dark Sky DVD

One of the better horror films I have seen that was made recently. I assume that it appealed to me because it was intended to look like it was made 30 years ago. It's modeled after the low budget and made-for-tv horror films of the late 70s/early 80s. The film stock is grainy, there's use of zoom lens, it opens with a rock/synth score, and everyone has feathered hair. This may sound like a joke but thankfully nothing is ever played for laughs and the film never delves into parody. It's most definitely a love letter to an age gone by that was replaced by overly edited, grimy, and ultimately boring, gore fests. This isn't to say the film is perfect, while I found it charming that not much happened in the first two thirds, I have to admit that certain scenes tended to drag. The villains are played by the awesome Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, but I would have like to have seen them used differently in the movie's finale. It was an enjoyable one time view but nothing I would hurry back to. I am more intrigued by West as a filmmaker than most young directors right now though, and that's something.


Out Of The Past (1947)

Dir: Jacques Tourneur
Warner DVD

I'm leaving for Seattle soon to go with some friends to the Noir City Film Fest programmed by Eddie Muller, so to prepare my mind I decided to watch a few classics before I go. Out Of The Past certainly qualifies and is surely one of the text book examples of Film Noir. It has it all, stark black & white cinematography, a convoluted story heavy on the flashbacks, the femme fatale, and some of the snappiest dialog ever written. It stars Robert Mitchum as an ex-private eye that gets pulled back into his former life when a past associate recognizes him pumping gas in a small town. He gets Mitchum to go see the boss, Kirk Douglas in one of his first roles, so he can make up for some past indiscretions. Most of the film is set in Mitchum's former life as we learn all about his previous relationship with Douglas and Douglas's deadly dame played by Jane Greer. It all comes down to some tough talking and double crossing with a downbeat ending you'd expect from the genre. Tourneur is a masterful director that can use staging and camera placement perfectly to convey the characters relationships and their connections to the past that they can never leave behind. There's a decent but dry commentary on the disc by James Ursini. If you're looking for a place to start with Noir, look no further.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Radio On (1980)

Dir: Christopher Petit
Plexifilm DVD

A meandering story about a D.J. named Robert (David Beames) who drives across England to find out what happened to his brother. The film starts with a camera slowly moving through a "flat" to the sounds of David Bowie's "Heroes" and finally stopping on a shot of someone's feet in a bathtub. It then cuts to Robert opening a package and four Kraftwerk cassettes (The cassette was an ancient device that was used to transport music, they were magnetic tapes encased in plastic and needed another device to play back the recorded music. Ask your parents about it sometime. *editor's note*) with a note that says "Happy Birthday, Brother". Robert then starts on his road adventure meeting several characters along the way including a Scottish Army deserter, German immigrants, and Sting. The movie is close in look and tone to Wim Wenders Kings of the Road. Wenders is credited with associate producer on the film so no surprise on his influence on it. The movie belongs to a very specific sub-genre of road picture that seemed to only exist in the late seventies and early eighties. A time when young film artists were trying to reconcile the existentialism of the 70' with the cynical consumerism of the coming decade. The film is beautifully summed up with the final shots of an old English sea-side town lingering casually as Kraftwerk's "Ohm Sweet Ohm" plays.
The transfer on the disc is excellent showing off the beautiful black & white photography. The chapter stops are named for the songs that play over the particular scenes denoting just how important the music is to the experience of viewing. The only feature is a 24 minute look at the locations shot around 1999, twenty years later, with Petit and Beames on hand.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Dir: John Gilling

Although the name doesn't officially appear in the credits, this is usually cited as a Hammer Films production. The cast includes Hammer regulars Barbara Shelley and Andre Morell, the crew includes several familiar Hammer names, and it was shot at Bray studios. The film itself though does not have the feeling of the studios output at the time and certainly doesn't measure up to Gilling's other horror efforts of the time. George Baxt's script borrows heavily from Edgar Allan Poe without giving him any credit. It's about a man (Morell) who doesn't care too much for his wife and talks the servants into killing her and hiding the body. They plan to pass off a new will leaving everything to him, to the authorities so he can cut out his wife's favorite niece (the Shelley character). Problems arise when the murder is witnessed by the woman's cat who then begins to torture everyone involved by clawing them, terrorizing from the shadows, just generally acting like a jerk. Morell then calls in some shady relatives to help him dispose of the cat alas, to no avail. It's fairly easy to guess what happens from there but Gilling does a fine job of pulling out some tension when necessary. Unfortunately, there are some moments of lightheartedness that stand out in a bad way. Frankly I felt the film was more tolerable without the Hammer logo as I would have expected more.
The print on this DVDr is washed out and has several moments where it looks damaged. It's still easy to tell what's happening but no one would mistake this for an official release. A station identification call number pops up a few times in the corner from what looks to be a regional channel in North Carolina (maybe?).
Thanks to Colin for sending this my way.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Maidstone (1970)

Dir: Norman Mailer

This is one of the three films that novelist Mailer made in the late sixties. I would say made over directed and wrote as that implies a certain familiarity with how a film will look and feel and this is anything but. The movie is shot cinema verite with fast paced editing and follows an American version of Fellini named Norman Kingsley (played by Mailer, who else?) that decides to announce that he may run for president and at the same time starts a film that will push the boundaries of sexual taboos. The film jumps between Kingsley directing his opus, people questioning his credentials, and meetings of a secret society that are wondering if he should be assassinated. Rip Torn plays Mailer's half-brother, Rey, who leads the Cash Box, a group of "intellectual knuckle-draggers" (paraphrasing) that Kingsley surrounds himself with. Mailer's ideas seem prophetic at this point as he questions the difference between celebrity and the politician. The notion of a film director becoming director was obviously an absurd idea to show what kind of egomaniac would rise to such power, how could Mailer know that a mere decade later the American people would elect an actor as President? As the films "story" comes to an end, Mailer breaks down the fourth wall and addresses his cast and crew directly trying to explain what he hoped to achieve by making the film the way he did. It's never explicitly said, but I would guess that no script was used as everyone's dialog seems to flow naturally and Mailer keeps talking about wanting to get at the truth on film, unlike Hollywood films which he says is "only one man's version of the truth". *SPOILER ALERT* As the movie comes to an end actor Torn takes this message to heart and attacks Mailer, not the character, with a hammer square in the head and drawing blood. He screams that Kingsley must die to end the film correctly. The two men then wrestle in one of the most shocking scenes I have ever witnessed. Mailer bites Torn's ear and they punch and gouge at each other as Mailer's wife and children approach. His wife starts screaming and the children start crying. This stops the fighting but the scene continues on as the two men whisper insults to one another so no one else can hear them. If the scene was faked, kudos to them.
The disc I have is a DVDr with non-removable French subtitles and the number 12 appears in the bottom corner making me think that this aired on French television. The quality is certainly passable, I would like to see an official release with Rip Torn commentary though.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Zombieland (2009)

Dir: Ruben Fleischer
Sony DVD

I imagine that the script for this movie started with a single gag. It happens at about the one hour mark and only takes a few minutes from set-up to punchline. Everyone loved this gag so much that they tried to write a movie around it. What followed was an endless string of meaningless jokes that really have nothing to do with the matter at hand, zombies. In Zombieland (and in case you forget the title it's said aloud about 27 times) zombies are really inconsequential. The disaster here really could have been anything. It would appear the film was made by people who had been told about zombie films without actually having sat through one. Many a lazy reviewer compared this to Shaun of the Dead, to imply that this was America's answer to that film. Where Shaun... succeeds as an homage to the genre with many visual and verbal references that come across with real reverence, this movie fails miserably. It does nothing to play with the trappings of the genre. And to take this on it's own merits it fails as well. While it makes no bones (sort of speak) about being a comedy, I found every joke and every attempt at humor to be utterly corny and lifeless. This movie is the antithesis of the the phrase comic timing. The four characters we're introduced to are merely caricatures, it's a world where men are sentimental cry babies and women are connivers or "bitches" as they're refereed to in the script on more than one occasion. It's a movie where slo-mo is a substitute for style. If this is life after the zombie holocaust, I would rather be food.


The Sailor Who Fell From Grace WIth The Sea (1976)

Dir: Lewis John Carlino

A film about a single mother, Anne (Sarah Myles), raising a troubled pubescent boy, John, who loves ships and belongs to a secret society of boys led by Chief. Chief is a sociopath that bullies the boys into seeing the world the way he does. It's a bitter, cynical viewpoint that places all adults as compromising liars. The thing that Chief hates above all things appears to be not staying true to one's own nature. This is exemplified in a scene where he gets the boys to drug a house cat so that Chief can dissect it and pull out it's still beating heart. The film seems to want to place the blame solely on an absence of male or father figures in the boys' lives. A male presence is only introduced once Anne meets Jim (Kris Kristofferson), even though some of the other boys mention their fathers, they are never shown. When Anne first starts dating Jim, John seems pleased. He holds the sea and all things connected to it (such as sailors for example) as something that is perfect and untouched. Trouble really begins when Jim quits being a sailor to stay with Anne and John and the boys take this as sign of weakness. The movie could have been an interesting exercise in human nature but feels more like a lifetime movie of the week. The soundtrack drips with a sickening sentimentality and Sarah Myles gives a pained performance as the pitiful, clueless widow. There are a few moments of horror and cringe worthy sexuality that let's you know it wasn't made for television, but the overall look and feel would have you think otherwise. Seeing that this was based on a story by Mishima and that it was the from the writer of Seconds (1966), I had rather high hopes for the film that were not met.
The DVD is long out of print and there are no special features at all. There's a wait on Netflix but I was still able to get it in fairly quickly. I would suggest starting there before purchasing a copy for the $50 collectors price tag.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Dir: Wes Anderson

Yes, yes, a rarity in my life that I saw something in a movie theater, but it was something I could drag the kids too. And often when you hear about or discuss a movie with other parents, someone usually says, "it was a kid's movie, but there were jokes for the adults in there to keep us interested". I would have to say that the exact opposite is true for Anderson's first foray into animation. This is a film for grown-ups with just enough jokes thrown in for kids to keep them interested. That and a box of Nerds. The story is about Mr. and Mrs. Fox who are living the free and easy life as bird thieves until they find out they are going to have a kid. They retire and Mr. Fox goes to work for the paper and Mrs. stays home to raise their insecure son. Fox has all the worries of a modern adult, mortgage, money, success, a father's desire to see his child succeed, but mostly, he deals with the fact that he wants to be seen as "fantastic" by everyone in his life. He hits a sort of fox mid-life crisis and returns to his former life of crime by planning and trying to pull off some heists on the local farmers. This, of course, goes badly and he calls too much attention to the local wildlife. The farmers come hunting and are willing to destroy anything to get to the fox. Mr. Fox has brought down a punishment that effects his friends and family all because he could not accept his modest, happy home life. He desired too much. A (if you will) fantastic message in today's society where most of the population seems to be clamoring to appear on TV for no discernible reason. Fame without achievement or talent is the flavor of the day and Mr. Fox must lose his tail and almost everyone around him to discover this valuable lesson. To just be happy with what you have. It's a stop motion film and The Wind in the Willows is really the first and only visual comparison that immediately comes to mind. It evokes the feeling of someone that grew up in the seventies but doesn't directly reference anything in particular. Anderson has come along with his use of music since Rushmore. While he does find a way to work in songs from the sixties, it never feels like a continuous advertisement for the soundtrack CD. This is another example of what an unusually strong year it was for what are considered childrens films, along with Ponyo and Where the Wild Things Are, one of my favorite movies of 2009.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Trollenberg Terror (1958)

Dir: Quentin Lawrence
Image DVD

Even though the cover for this one calls it The Crawling Eye, the opening credits identify it as the longer Trollenberg Terror cut. The screenplay (written by Hammer Films prolific Jimmy Sangster) packs a lot of characters and multiple sci-fi elements nicely into it's 84 minute run time. It's about Ann & Sarah Pilgrim, two sisters that do a psychic stage show who are traveling to Zurich on holiday. On the train they meet Forrest Tucker (a U.N. scientist) and when they get to his stop at Trollenberg, the telepathic sister Ann (soon to be Disney star Janet Munro) gets some sort of psychic flash that draws her off the train. Tucker helps them to secure lodging and it's soon discovered that some decapitated bodies had been found. A local scientist tells them about a radioactive cloud that's been hovering around the mountain. Whatever lives in the cloud is calling to Ann as we find out that people with her abilities cause a threat to the monster. Not much info is force fed to us, just theories that may or may not be true, an intelligent choice. When the Eye is revealed toward the end of the film it's genuinely scary even though prolonged exposure gives the low budget away. The movie was an early episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" but don't let that make you think that it's only a camp fest as the film is never played for laughs.
It's certainly a must for sci-fi and horror fans from the "Silver Age" with quite a pedigree. A year before this was released, Forrest Tucker had just appeared in a very similar film for Hammer, The Abominable Snowman, and Jennifer Jayne, who plays sister Sarah, went on to write the screenplays for Tales That Witness Madness and Son of Dracula under the name Jay Fairbank.
The print is perfectly acceptable and presented anamorphically. There are no special features worth mentioning but there is a German DVD out with audio commentary by John Carpenter who sites the film as an inspiration for The Fog.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Shadowman (1974)

Dir: Georges Franju DVDr

Franju will probably be best remembered (and deservedly so) for the incredible Eyes Without A Face (1960). Unfortunately this one doesn't match the artistry he showed in his more famous work, probably the reason it hasn't been officially released in the states, but it's still enjoyable to watch. The movie starts with a butler going to visit an old woman who he was told could help him steal secrets from his boss. The old woman however, is the Shadowman in disguise and the secrets in question supposedly lead to the treasure of the Knights of Templar, a treasure highly coveted by this master thief. The Shadowman tortures and kills the man for the secrets but to no avail. He then uses a never ending array of disguises, gadgets, kick-ass female sidekick (Gayle Hunnicutt) henchman, and zombies(!!!) to figure out where the secrets and/or treasure is. All this leads to the big logic flaw in the plot, if he has all this money, including a London branch he mentions in one scene, then why does he need this particular treasure? So, let's forget about that. It's a comic book type film with a bit of the Wallace Krimis thrown in but doesn't achieve the pace or shear fun of Bava' Danger: Diabloik. There is however, exploding remote-controlled taxis, lots of creepy masks, an awesome spring-loaded knife shooter (that reminded of the Episode of The Equalizer with Adam Ant), and a big showdown between the Knights Templar and a bunch of henchman. In an interesting side note, Shadowman is played by Jacques Champreux, a screenwirter and the grandson of Louis Feullade who created Judex, Fantomas, & Les Vampires and directed over 600 films in the silent era.
"Just For The Hell Of It"'s print is more than acceptable for a gray market disc. The original image was probably more saturated with red and there is, of course, some fuzziness that can't be helped, but you can see and hear everything just fine.


Pandorum (2009)

Dir: Christian Alvert
Anchor Bay DVD

In the beginning, there was much to like about Pandorum. It opens with Ben Foster (everything he does looks like he's going to pop vessels, and I appreciate that anger) waking up in a sleep chamber aboard a space ship. He's alone and can't figure out where everyone else is. His memory is very slowly coming back to him and only in pieces. The n Dennis Quaid gets out of the chamber next to him and he is also having memory problems. The film slowly unfolds as the two try to figure out what there mission was and where they are. Pretty cool so far. They figure out that they were transporting 16,000 people to a new planet that can sustain life because Earth is a goner. As Foster explores the ship, he discovers that it has been taken over by mutated cannibal types that wear bone armor. Here endeth the cool part. If the film could have stayed with the eeriness of the empty ship as these two try and figure out what's going on then I think we could have had the makings of a sci-fi classic. At this point the movie deteriorates into an action/horror film that does deliver on jumps but loses the freshness and originality of the first act. There are still plenty of twists that I won't give away and it's worth a watch if it's the type of thing your into.


Whip It (2009)

Dir: Drew Barrymore
20th Century Fox DVD

Drew Barrymore's directing debut about a teen girl (Ellen Page) growing up in a small town near Austin, TX who is trying to find her own identity. She does so in roller derby. From that description you should be able to see the entire movie play out in your mind. Her dad's cool, her mom's not. She's on the underdog team that rallies back for victory. She meets a punk rock boy, etc.. Yes it's full of heart and everyone understands each other in the end, and it hits every beat it wants to. And in doing so, Barrymore has created the safest film ever made involving counter culture. Not a horrible watch, just forgettable.


Fireball (2009)

Dir: Thanakorn Pongsuwan
Lions Gate DVD

Finally a movie about underground, full-contact basketball! But more than that, it's a movie about class struggles as the rich use this concept of "Fireball', which is basketball with no rules and the first team to score wins, to keep the poor down. It's a poignant tale of the working class as they, well not really. It's just an excuse for guys to beat the crap out of each other. Since Ong-bak was released there has been a steady stream of imitators coming out of Thailand with knees to the head and fists to the throat. That's fine, unfortunately this one is shot on handy cam and will certainly induce nausea in those inclined towards motion sickness. The story is predictable and there's an edit every 1.5 seconds, but it's forgivable if you're into brutal kung-fu and basketball. So if this sounds appealing at all, grab your Dramamine and check it out. Or don't, your life will be pretty much the same either way.