What We’re Watching 7/13/11

On Blu-ray:

Heat (1995)

Michael Mann’s epic crime tour-de-force is stylized pulp at its most borderline absurd. Apparently Al Pacino played his character, Vincent, as if he was a cocaine addict, something we never visually get a clue of. His mannerisms are boisterous and his line delivery is melodramatic at best. Vincent’s so neo-noir cool he doesn’t even say goodbye when he hangs up a phone. And with lines like “…killed walking your doggie!” and “Don’t waste my motherfucking time!”, it’s hard not to feel a wink from Pacino, as if he wants the audience to be aware of how hyper the level of storytelling is. The themes of cop and criminal, and, once again, man at work, are thrust upon the audience so as to make sure we aren’t just aware of them, but feel them. The whole thing is the tragedy of noir with the surreal spectacle of an action film layered on top. Robert De Niro’s straight portrayal of the criminal helps balance the film out so we don’t feel Pacino-fatigued halfway through. And then there’s Val Kilmer, who I personally prefer in these smaller character actor roles, donning a goose egg the size of a baseball on his arm and a pretty spiffy white-trash hairdo. I’ll be going into this movie far more in-depth with another article as part of a series in Action Junkie focusing on writer/director Michael Mann.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

This film is hands down the best film I’ve seen recently. Admittedly, I’d never seen it before. A handful of years ago I went on a Mickey Spillane kick and read a few of his Mike Hammer books, Kiss Me Deadly being one of them. The book is formulaic and pretty much like every other Mike Hammer book. Hammer gets in trouble, falls into a case, there’s a damsel in distress, a femme fatale, some bad guys, double crossing, and Hammer eventually wins the day. The film starts similarly to the book. Hammer helps a woman in trouble and pays a price for it. I love the beginning of this film; it starts on an up note and keeps going from there. I don’t want to spoil anything about this film for those who have not seen it. Abandoning the conventional plot of the book, the movie takes some decidedly left turns and ends up going places Spillane never took Hammer. It must be said that Mike Hammer is one of the most blockheaded and pathetic heroes in private detective-dom. Like director Alex Cox states in his extra feature on the Criterion edition of this film, in the books Hammer is big, violent and dumb; in the movie he’s big, violent, and even more dumb. He’s a pure brute in this film. His treatment of women is atrocious, yet everywhere he goes they simply throw themselves at his feet. Does this mean that women really do prefer assholes? In Hammer’s case, it’s true. The whole thing leads up to a seriously bizarre and fantastic plot twist that only could have come out of the 50s. The film’s direction is precise, it’s brain numbing, and the performances, whether flat or over-the-top, serve only to better the final product. Director Robert Aldrich knew exactly what he was doing when he took on this project. Kiss Me Deadly is by far the best Mike Hammer adaptation, and in my opinion better than the book, which seems dull in comparison. Out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion, if you haven’t seen it yet, do it now.

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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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