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L.A. noir at its finest: “Kiss Me Deadly” on Criterion Blu-ray

L.A. noir at its finest: “Kiss Me Deadly” on Criterion Blu-ray (photo)

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“Kiss Me Deadly,” out today in a new Blu-ray and DVD edition from The Criterion Collection, is the ultimate film noir, an example of the form at its bleakest and blackest. Everything about it is extreme, from the amorality of its greedy, violent hero to the sexuality of its femme fatales, whose distinctly carnal heavy breathing provides the soundtrack to the opening credits.

Those credits made our list of the greatest opening titles in history. They begin with Mickey Spillaine’s famous private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) as he nearly runs over Cloris Leachman’s Christina Bailey, naked except for a man’s trenchcoat, on a deserted stretch of road outside Los Angeles. He gives her a lift and as she catches her breath (or has an orgasm; from the sound alone, it’s tough to say) the credits scroll on screen from top to bottom with the words arranged from bottom to top. When the title appears onscreen it reads “DEADLY KISS ME,” a picture starring the great “MEEKER RALPH” as Hammer. As our own R. Emmet Sweeney astutely observed in his piece on the “Deadly” opening titles, the effect is ominous and disorienting, the perfect prelude to Hammer’s journey into the L.A. underworld. Once this seemingly innocuous car ride introduces him to a criminal conspiracy of gamblers, cannons, and atomic secrets, Hammer can find no bottom and no escape.

His car ride with Christina ends with a mysterious beating, a staged car crash, and the death of the hitchhiker (all beats that will be mirrored in the film’s ultimate finale), but Hammer’s not motivated to solve her murder out of some sense of nobility or desire to bring her killers to justice. Rather Hammer realizes Christina’s involvement in some sort of mass coverup involving gangsters, scientists, and newspaper columnists could mean a big payday and a quick ticket out of the small time divorce cases that pay his living. Even after his snooping has yielded him an initial offer of some hush money from the men responsible, Hammer refuses it, thinking there’s a lot more to be found if he keeps digging. It’s a greedy impulse he will ultimately regret. It is interesting to note that the search for truth in “Kiss Me Deadly” isn’t a heroic pursuit; it’s a selfish, destructive act. Screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides’ cynical screenplay doesn’t portray Hammer’s work as an investigation; this is a guy sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. And for his curiosity a whole bunch of people get a face full of fire.

This is film noir. You know what comes next: double crosses, fist fights, and seductive women, all washed down with two fingers of bourbon. That said, even as it provides all the requisite genre thrills of film noir, “Kiss Me Deadly” goes further, building to a climax that belongs more to the tradition of science-fiction than crime novels. Coming in 1955, at the tail end of the classic noir period, director Robert Aldrich’s film provides something bridge between the dark detective stories dramas made in the wake of World War II and the paranoid sci-fi allegories of the Cold War. The film’s insane and spectacular ending, with its gunfights, explosions, and apocalyptic overtones, is like the sick and twisted best of both worlds. No wonder its helped inspire so many films that followed, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Pulp Fiction.”

If you’ve never seen “Kiss Me Deadly” before, you have to, and Criterion’s new edition of the film is a damn good way to make your introduction. The film looks beautiful, crisp yet gritty; those deep, sooty shadows have never look more sinister. The extras include an informative and conversational commentary between noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini and essays by Aldrich and critic J. Hoberman. My favorite supplement, though, is the photo and video tour of the film’s seedy Bunker Hill locations, “where film noir heroes routinely came to hide out or die,” by writer and historian Jim Dawson.

Here is my one critique of “Kiss Me Deadly:” it has the wrong ending. Watch the film with its original ending, then watch the alternate one included on the Criterion Blu-ray. That alternate finale, which was mistakenly placed onto prints of the film for decades, is much darker than the one Aldrich intended. But think about the movie, and the considerable darkness of the world it depicts. To me, there’s really only way it can end: with our sinful heroes in the embrace of the deadliest kiss of all.

Which “Kiss Me Deadly” ending do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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