Now Showing at Home

Kiss Me Deadly (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

I didn't really enjoy this silly film noir—based on a Mickey Spillane pulp novel—for most of its running time. I'd forgotten that this is the movie that influenced Alex Cox's Repo Man (the glowing car trunk) and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (the glowing suitcase).

The presence of a glowing box with demonic hissing comes as quite the surprise, considering the film is a mostly straightforward, sometimes poorly acted mystery-detective thriller until the box shows up. That box throws the movie into the way-out-there zone, making the film into some sort of supernatural, anti-nuclear-war parable. It's no wonder that weirdos like Cox and Tarantino treasure it so.

The movie starts simply enough, with Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer picking up a scared hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman, in her heavily-panting movie debut). The two wind up in a pickle, with Hammer waking up in the hospital and starting an investigation into why his car was pushed off a cliff—with him in it—by thugs. The investigation eventually leads to that crazy box and its unspecified contents.

Meeker is fun to watch as a somewhat nasty gumshoe with a bad attitude. Some of the supporting players include bad actresses making pitiful screen debuts, and overacting performers perpetuating ethnic stereotypes.

While some of these problems mar the viewing experience, I enjoyed the film overall thanks to its strange box finale. Director Robert Aldrich could've used a little more help in the casting department, but his decision to end the film in the way he did (Spillane's novel had no mystery box) took balls. That was one crazy-in-the-head idea for the mid-'50s—or anytime, for that matter.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A commentary provided by two film scholars and a documentary on Spillane are cool, but Alex Cox's short video about the film is the coolest. There's also an alternate ending.

13 Assassins (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Prolific director Takashi Miike delivers his best film yet, about 13 assassins on a mission to take out a heinous lord (Goro Inagaki, playing a memorably deplorable villain). The film utilizes some of Miike's patented dark humor, and winds up being quite the action thriller, and possibly one of the better samurai films ever made.

When Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Inagaki) pulls one too many evil fast ones, valiant samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho of Babel) takes it upon himself to lead a band of assassins on a mission to kill the lord—a mission that will surely lead to their deaths. It all leads up to a battle of 13 men against 200, a battle that Miike manages to make convincing and exhilarating. The battle is also an amazing 50 minutes long!

This is a samurai film with a dark, twisted edge. Anyone who has seen Miike's classic Audition knows the man is capable of some sick stuff, and some of that makes its way into this movie. He's also good at mixing in some laughs, often provided here by an unlikely recruit (the final member of the 13) who takes out samurai by swinging rocks.

The cast is terrific; the movie looks wonderful; and there's a whole lot of blood, for those of you who like that sort of thing. This currently ranks as one of the year's better films.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are some deleted scenes and a rather strange interview with Miike. I certainly would've liked to see more on the making of this film and the staging of that final battle scene.

Arthur (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Russell Brand treads on sacred ground in this ill-advised remake of the Dudley Moore classic about a goofball alcoholic having romance problems and acting like an idiot in public.

The original was made back in the days when an actor could play a cartoon drunk and still get laughs. Those days are over, so Brand here plays a toned-down alcoholic who doesn't flaunt his drunkenness that much and cleans up by the end of the film.

The cartoon-drunk routine was basically the whole point of the original, so when you strip that away, all you have left is a stupid love story. While Greta Gerwig was appealing in Ben Stiller's Greenberg, she is so bad in this movie that she makes one yearn for Liza Minnelli. Seriously, Liza Minnelli in her present state would've been better than Gerwig. (Hey, Liza was the only good thing about the latest Sex and the City sequel.)

Helen Mirren replaces the great, Oscar-winning John Gielgud as Hobson, and the role demands nothing of her. Brand simply does his now-tiresome routine, something we all thought was funny a couple of years ago. I, for one, am second-guessing myself on the whole Brand thing.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A gag reel, and some deleted and "additional" scenes.