DVD Pick of the week: Kiss Me Deadly (The Criterion Collection)
Ralph Meeker perfectly embodies Mickey Spillane’s twofisted private eye Mike Hammer in this wild, weird 1955 film noir classic from ace director Robert Aldrich.
The frost of the Cold War hangs over the heated proceedings, wherein Hammer tracks down a murderer while tangling with the LA cops, the FBI, and a shadowy conspiracy that clearly represents nefarious foreign interests. There’s plenty of tough-guy talk and action, yet the film also boasts an offkilter, almost satirical surrealism.
The supporting cast includes Maxine Cooper as Hammer’s faithful secretary Velda and Wesley Addy as Pat Chambers, his only ally on the police force. Albert Dekker and Paul Stewart provide the requisite villainy, as does Gaby Rodgers as a femme fatale, and look for Jack Elam, Strother Martin and Cloris Leachman (in her screen debut) lurking in the background.
The film was more successful with audiences than critics when released, but has since gained hugely in stature and respect, influencing many filmmakers along the way. Ever wonder where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the mysterious suitcase in Pulp Fiction? Wonder no more.
Special features include an audio commentary, retrospective documentaries, the alternate ending, and more. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95.
COYOTE TRAILS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Tom Tyler triumphs over horse rustlers in this predictable but zippy 1935 B Western.
ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE (Entertainment One): The “Mistress of the Dark” (AKA Cassandra Peterson) lends her buxom, bawdy charms as hostess for a pair of DVD doublefeatures: Night of the Living Dead (1968) and I Eat Your Skin (1964); The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Werewolf of Washington (both 1973). Each DVD retails for $14.98.
EULOGY FOR A VAMPIRE (Water Bearer Films): Producer/director Patrick McGuinn’s gay-themed vampire thriller stars Angelo Tursi as a young drifter who bewitches a group of monks sequestered in a monastery in upstate New York. Intriguing premise (a la The Beguiled ) spoiled by ponderous pacing, overripe performances and cheesy cinematography.
“GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD NIGHTS” (DC Entertainment/Warner Home Video): Six animated stories showcasing the DC Comics superhero (voiced by Nathan Fillion), being released in conjunction with the new live-action film. The voiceover cast includes Elisabeth Moss, Jason Isaacs, Henry Rollins, Kelly Hu and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The DVD retails for $19.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $24.95.
“HAVEN”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Entertainment One): Emily Rose portrays an FBI agent who uncovers strange goings-on in the title New England town, in all 13 episodes from the inaugural 2010 season of the SyFy series, based on Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid. The DVD boxed set retails for $44.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $49.98.
“IF GOD IS WILLING AND DA CREEK DON’T RISE” (HBO Home Entertainment): Spike Lee revisits post-Katrina New Orleans in this followup to his acclaimed, award-winning 2006 documentary miniseries “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” The DVD boxed set retails for $24.98.
IN OLD MONTANA (Alpha Home Entertainment): In 1880, cavalry officer Fred Scott tries to stop a range war between cattle barons and sheep herders in this 1939 Western programmer – and he even manages to belt out a few songs, including the title tune.
INTO THE STORM (HBO Home Entertainment): Emmy winner Brendan Gleeson (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-Series or Movie) is a top-notch Winston Churchill in this episodic but absorbing follow-up to The Gathering Storm (2002), which explores the human side of the legendary British politician as it dramatizes his last days as prime minister, following the end of World War II. Janet McTeer plays Churchill’s wife Clementine, with Iain Glen as George VI and Len Cariou as FDR. Additional Emmy win for Outstanding Music Composition and 14 nominations in all, including Outstanding Made-for-TV Movie, Outstanding Direction (Thaddeus O’Sullivan), Outstanding Writing (Hugh Whitmore), Outstanding Supporting Actor (Cariou) and Outstanding Supporting Actress (McTeer).
JOLENE (Entertainment One): Jessica Chastain plays the title role in director Dan Ireland’s award-winning adaptation of EL Doctorow’s short story, backed by a starstudded supporting cast including Chazz Palminteri, Michael Vartan, Dermot Mulroney, Denise Richards, Rupert Friend and Theresa Russell, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) or Bluray ($29.98 retail). Rated R.
RED RIDING HOOD (Warner Home Video): Amanda Seyfried is the delectable damsel in distress, playing the title role in director Catherine Hardwicke’s uneven but entertainingly campy and visually enticing rendition of the classic fairy tale. Additional glamour is supplied by Virginia Madsen (as Mother) and Julie Christie (as Grandmother, to whose house our heroine goes), and the cast also includes Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack). Rated PG-13.
RESPIRE (MTI Home Video): There are echoes of HP Lovecraft in writer/producer/director David A Cross’ ambitious chiller about an ailing Baltimore antiques dealer (Tracy Teague) enmeshed in a quest for immortality. Lowbudget but pretty good. Rated R.
SEX AND BLACK MAGIC (One 7 Movies/CAV Distributing): Richard Harrison and Susan Scott (AKA Nieves Navarro) play a couple bewitched by Caribbean beauty Lucia Ramirez in this sleazy slab of Euro-schlock (vintage 1980) from the everprolific, never-bashful Joe D’Amato. If you can’t see the “twist” ending coming… Originally titled Orgasmo nero. In Italian with English subtitles.
STOLEN (IFC Films/MPI Media Group): Interesting little thriller with Jon Hamm as a cop haunted by the disappearance of his young son, and how it parallels that of a similar incident 50 years before, in which Josh Lucas (also a coproducer) also lost his son. A nice try that doesn’t quite work, but well-acted and worth a look. The juxtaposition of current and past events is sometimes a distraction. Also on hand: James Van Der Beek (with very strange makeup), Rhona Mitra, Joanna Cassidy, Beth Grant, Jimmy Bennett and Rutanya Alda. Rated R.
“SUPERNATURAL”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video): The Blu-ray debut ($59.96 retail) of all 22 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the award-winning CW Network fantasy series starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki as brothers battling the supernatural.
UNKNOWN (Warner Home Video): It’s a case of mistaken identity — or is it? — for Liam Neeson, who finds himself enmeshed in espionage and intrigue in Berlin in this wellmade but protracted thriller that struggles to sustain interest throughout — despite a lean, mean Neeson and Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, January Jones, Frank Langella (wasted) and Bruno Ganz, who steals his scenes as an aging spy who knows a rat when he smells one. Rated PG-13.
“WILLIAM & KATE” (A&E Home Entertainment): Yes, you knew it was coming … a made-for-TV dramatization of the eightyear courtship of England’s Prince William (Nico Evers-Swindell) and Kate Middleton (Camilla Luddington), culminating in this year’s royal wedding. Victoria Tennant, Serena Scott-Thomas and Ben Cross (as Prince Charles) co-star. The DVD retails for $19.95.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger