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PCR #497 (Vol. 10, No. 40). This edition is for the week of September 28--October 4, 2009.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Whip It"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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"Whip It"  by Mike Smith
Living Fanboy: The Great Star Wars Haul  by ED Tucker
Memoirs of an Otaku  by Jason Fetters
Peace Be With You....just Not In Iran .... The Olympic Tour? .... Healthcare Update: Moveon Strikes Back .... Die Quickly? Holocaust? .... Obama Worship .... Ayers Wrote It? .... ....  by Brandon Jones
Polanski .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2...  by Mike Smith
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Fox Searchlight     
Starring: Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore
Directed by: Drew Barrymore
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 1 hour 51 mins

I don’t know about you but when I was younger Saturday mornings were magical. As a pre-teenager they were spent in front of the television with my animated friends, eventually giving way to “American Bandstand.” But when thirteen rolled around the routine changed some. Sure, I still found time to spend with Scooby Doo, the Archies and the Superfriends. But if nothing on “Bandstand” caught my eye, or my neighbor’s son wasn’t on “Soul Train” (Paul Forney, whose parents lived across from us in Tampa, was the bass player for the Jimmy Castor Bunch, who you may remember for giving the world “The Bertha Butt Boogie.” Every so often Mrs. Forney would call over on Friday night and say “don’t forget Paul’s on “Soul Train” tomorrow”) I would tune in the overly bright world of the Roller Derby. Yes, women on skates, beating the heck out of each other. I would watch for hours, never really rooting for a team and, to be honest, never knowing how they scored their points. Not sure how Drew Barrymore spent her weekends as a kid, but she has brought back some fun memories with her directorial debut, “Whip It.”

Bliss (Page) is a high school girl living in a little town in Texas. Her mother (an excellent Marcia Gay Harden) is a former beauty pageant winner now working for the Post Office. Bliss spends her spare time working at a local restaurant called the Oink Joint. When she’s not slinging barbecue she’s trying to please her mom by participating in local contests. Intrigued by a flier she comes across, Bliss heads to the bright lights of Austin to take in a roller derby contest. Learning the teams are holding tryouts she decides to give her wheels a try.

Based on the novel “Derby Girl” by Shauna Cross (who also wrote the screenplay), “Whip It” is one of those small movies (think “Juno” or “Napoleon Dynamite”) that come out of nowhere and beg for a chance to be noticed. The film turns a revealing eye on the sport of roller derby, where teams consist of players with such colorful names as Bloody Holly, Maggie Mayhem and Rosa Sparks. It’s no wonder Bliss, now renamed “Babe Ruthless” for her fans, wants to be a part of the excitement. Especially when you consider that her previous excitement consisted of whichever customer could eat the enormous “Squeeler” sandwich in under three minutes, thereby getting a Polaroid of their achievement up on the wall of fame. Bliss’ team, the Hurl Scouts, aren’t the best in the league. In fact, they come across as a female version of the Charlestown Chiefs from “Slapshot.” They even have a pair of sisters to act as enforcers, just like the Chiefs had the Hanson brothers. That the sinisterly named Manson sisters are deaf is just another light touch from Barrymore’s brush. For a first time director she has done her homework well. The film flows easily on screen and the action scenes (after all, this IS roller derby) are shot fluidly. She also gets some excellent performances out of her cast, including Lewis as a skating rival, Daniel Stern (wow, has it really been 30 years since “Breaking Away?”) as Bliss’ father and Alia Shawkat as her best friend, Pash. A romantic subplot involving Bliss and an indy rocker allow Barrymore to pepper the soundtrack with performers like Jens Lekman and others to give the film a special musical touch.

An excellent freshman feature, I can hardly wait to see what Barrymore picks for her sophomore effort. On a scale of zero to four I give “Whip It”


This week's movie review of "Whip It" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2009, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.