• Straight To Hell (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: August 28th, 2018.
    Director: Alex Cox
    Cast: Joe Strummer, Courtney Love, Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Elvis Costello
    Year: 1987
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    Straight To Hell – Movie Review:

    Willy (Dick Rude), Norwood (Sy Richardson) and Simms (Joe Strummer) are a trio of hitmen hiding out in a swanky hotel in Los Angeles. When a job goes south, they split, a pregnant woman named Velma (Courtney Love), accompanying them, in hopes of getting to Mexico where they hope to live free from the ire of their employer, Amos Dade (Jim Jarmusch). They successfully rob a bank on the way and make it south of the border fairly easily but, once they’re out in the middle of the desert, their car breaks down.

    With no other real choice, they walk to the nearest town after burying their cash. While the town at first appears to be deserted, they quickly learn that this is very much not the case. The town is inhabited by a strange cast of characters, some considerably more dangerous than others. It starts with an altercation with a man named Rusty Zimmerman (Edward Tudorpole) and then a shootout with some banditos addicted to coffee (played by the members of The Pogues). Eventually, however, the townsfolk welcome them into their fold and they wind up invited to a party by Tim McMahon (Biff Yeager), the de facto mayor of the town. Some time later, one of Amos’ men, Whitey, shows up looking for the group but he’s killed, eventually leading to a showdown with Amos himself.

    A little background information. Originally there was to be a tour put together where many of the bands involved in this film were to tour Nicaragua. That fell apart and for that reason, Alex Cox wound up with a whole lot of musicians on hand with a bit of time to kill. Being a big fan of spaghetti westerns, Cox and Dick Rude quickly put a script together, brought everyone over to Almeria and four weeks later… Straight To Hell happened. The end result reflects the rushed nature in which the movie was made. Characters are not fleshed out at all and the plot is very meandering despite the fact that it is actually quite basic. Performances are all over the place and the whole thing feels like an exercise in cinematic self-indulgence and more of ten than not, a game of ‘spot the celebrity’ more than anything else.

    That said, while this one misses more often than it hits, it is worth seeing at least for the curiosity value of it all. Joe Strummer oozes cool in every frame of the movie and shows some genuine leading man abilities here. The soundtrack is great, using music from Strummer, The Pogues, Pray For Rain, Elvis Costello (who also has a small role in the movie) as well as Dan Wool and Zaner Schloss. The Pogues are amusing in their bizarre casting as banditos, and while the great Eddie Tudorpole only gets a few minutes of screen time, he’s a kick. We also get cameos from a squirrely Dennis Hooper and an even squirrelier Grace Jones, Miguel Sandoval, Joe Cashman, Xander Berkely and a few other oddballs. The movie also looks really good. Cox’s love of spaghetti westerns results in some great location work and some seriously cool visuals, making it all the more of a shame that half of the performances are flat out bad (we’re looking at you, Courtney Love) and that the movie suffers from serious pacing problems.

    It’s worth pointing out that the version of the movie included on this Blu-ray release is the ‘director’s cut’ (also known as Straight To Hell Returns) version that Cox put together in 2010. Expect some ‘digitally enhanced’ tomfoolery in the shoot out scenes (CGI blood) and a five-minute longer running time as well as some color tweaks when compared to the original version (it would have been nice to get both versions here – that didn’t happen).

    Straight To Hell – Blu-ray Review:

    Kino Lorber presents Straight To Hell in a nice looking 1.85.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a ‘new 2k restoration.’ Generally speaking, this transfer is a good one. Some shots are softer than others, no doubt due to the stylish photography that Cox and company employ in a lot of the film, but the detail is there where you’d expect it to be. Close up shots look really good in particular, you can make out the different strands of stubble on characters’ faces if you’re into that. The color reproduction, which is based on the aforementioned revised version, leans very strongly towards the hot side of things, and there’s a bit of a yellowish tint to much of the movie that was obviously intentional, but otherwise things look fine. The image is free of any noise reduction or edge enhancement and shows the expected amount of natural film grain. Compression issues are never a problem and there’s good depth and texture here.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 mix on the disc is also solid. Gun shots, which are pretty frequent, make good use of the surround channels as do other effects, with most of the dialogue coming out of the front of the mix. The score, which does sound really good here, is spread out nicely throughout all channels, and there’s good bass response here too. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles provided nor are there any alternate language tracks.

    Extras are carried over from the 2010 Micrcocinema DVD release of the Director’s Cut, starting with an audio commentary by Alex Cox and Dick Rude. This commentary is legitimately great, so if you find the movie getting too self-indulgent for your tastes, flip over to this track as it’s both interesting and sometimes quite funny. They talk quite openly about how the film was made, the locations, how and why all of these musicians were brought on board to work on the project, and of course, the various (and obvious) influence of Italian spaghetti westerns on the picture. They share plenty of anecdotes about what it was like on set and how a lot of the different players were to work with, they talk about the score and the soundtrack, the action set pieces, the script and plenty more.

    After that, dig into the twenty-five-minute Back To Hell making of documentary where Cox got pretty much everyone involved in the film back to reflect on the time that they spent working on the project. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary track but added input from many (though not all – where are Shane MacGowan and Eddie Tuderpole, damn it?) of the other cast members gives it plenty of value outside of that track.

    Also found on the disc is Black Hills, a short film that was made wile Cox was scouting the locations to be used in Straight To Hell way back in 1977.

    A trailer for Straight To Hell Returns rounds out the extra features alongside the requisite menus and chapter selection options.

    Straight To Hell – The Final Word:

    Straight To Hell could have been a great film. It’s not. It does have its moments though, and Clash fans in particular should appreciate seeing Joe Strummer play a lead role really well. It helps to have an affinity for the music of the era going in, but this really is an exercise in style over substance. That said, it’s interesting, even if it isn’t all that successful. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray disc, however, is a good one. It looks and sounds quite nice and carries over all of the extras from the past DVD special edition release, including the excellent commentary track.

    Click on the images below for full sized Straight To Hell Blu-ray screen caps!