My third film pick is a piece of glory from one of my very favorite modern film writers today, Shane Black.
This film, like the last one, does not center on Christmas but it takes place during Christmas time and continues to remind the audience of the holiday season throughout in various ways (costumes, sets, etc.).
3. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005)
I adore this movie. I think I have watched it more times than most of the films in my collection. But…that goes with the territory. Films written by Shane Black (especially those called The Last Boy Scout) are generally on heavy rotation around here.
But this film is especially precious to me. If you have read this blog for any amount of time or even glanced at other pieces I’ve written, you will notice that I enjoy the noir genre quite a bit. Well, this is comedy-Christmas-noir, in a sense. It’s self-aware and self-reflexive without being obnoxious; it’s entertaining and very smart without coming off as pretentious, it’s an all-around excellent film.
So let’s talk Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Not only is it a wonderful film, but it’s got historical roots. It may look and act like a modern-day piece, but in reality, it is not simply the Raymond Chandler names for the film “chapters” that are based in the literary past. The entire film springs from the tradition of pulp fiction. Shane Black got the inspiration for the film from a novel by author Brett Halliday, nom-de-plume for prolific writer Davis Dresser.
Dresser/Halliday’s work was made into several films in the 1940’s and a variety of radio shows as well, primarily featuring the detective Michael Shayne. Aside from the narrative, Black manages to engage Halliday’s work into Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by inventing a series of pulp fiction books by a writer named Johnny Gossamer. The books look a great deal like the ones written by Dresser/Halliday and published by the company that he later formed with his wife, Torquil Publishing. While the average observer would simply be entertained by this and might think it perhaps a simple pulp fiction reference, I find it to be even more rewarding to have that extra “bonus” link to the Mike Shayne novels.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang does it all right. It works on all the “right” principles: Hollywood, holidays, intrigue, humor. It is also one of the first films to platform a gay character without having him function as a stereotype. While action and gun battles may not scream “jingle bells” to you, the gal running around in the Santa costume is pretty easy on the eyes, and Robert Downey Jr.’s detecting in this outdoes Sherlock Holmes any day of the week, any month of the year.
If you haven’t seen this film, please do. It’s highly recommended and highly rewatchable. And what are these films about anyway but insane rewatchability, right? In essence, when you’re finished lighting that menorah, chuck this in the DVD player, get this from Netflix, hell- do a blind buy on Amazon or at Amoeba or your local DVD shop. You won’t be sorry.