WEIRDLAND: "Free Ride", "Neo Noir", Crime dramas

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Free Ride", "Neo Noir", Crime dramas

“Free Ride” is a true crime drama set in 1978. Anna Paquin leads as Christina Milland, a downtrodden mother of two who decides there’s nothing left for her family in blue-collar Ohio, so relocates to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The weather, lifestyle, and her new job cleaning houses in a wealthy neighborhood are invigorating, however, eventually, Christina comes to want more for her family and realizes that she can get it by teaming up with a marijuana cartel to put those big, empty mansions to use. Source:

Arriving home literally with blood on her hands, Lisa tries to make sense of what happened and her role in it, polling the adults in her life on how best to proceed. She confides in her mother, Joan (the delicately forceful J. Smith-Cameron), an actress whose new play is receiving rave notices and who's embarking on her own perilous interior journey involving a South American suitor (Jean Reno). She talks with her geometry teacher (Matt Damon), a handsome, transplanted Midwesterner with an idealistic streak. She pulls away from her friends but strikes up a relationship with a teenage boy who's clearly trouble (Kieran Culkin). Eventually she meets a woman named Emily (Jeannie Berlin), with whom she becomes schooled in the minutiae of wrongful-death suits. Source:

Scene from "Margaret" (2011) directed by Kenneth Lonergan, starring Anna Paquin & Matt Damon

Matt Damon in "Rounders" (1998) directed by John Dahl

There's humor in the film, especially when a lot of professional players find themselves at the same table in Atlantic City, and Mike's droll voice-over narration describes the unsuspecting suckers who sit down at the table. ("We weren't working with one another, but we weren't working against one another, either. It's like the Nature Channel; you don't see piranhas eating each other.") The movie was directed by John Dahl, whose "Red Rock West" and "The Last Seduction" are inspired neo-noirs. "Rounders" sometimes has a noir look but it never has a noir feel, because it's not about losers (or at least it doesn't admit it is). Source:

Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan in "The Departed" (2006)

Best Director-winning Martin Scorsese's viciously-violent Best Picture crime neo-noir tale The Departed (2006) was a remake of Siu Fai Mak's Infernal Affairs (2002, HK), and told about reciprocally-planted 'moles' (or rats) within both the South Boston Irish-American mob Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), led by mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and the Massachusetts State Police Department Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Ben Affleck and Diane Lane in "Hollywoodland" (2006)

Allen Coulter's noirish mystery Hollywoodland (2006) retold (in flashback) the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of TV's Superman in 1959, George Reeves (Ben Affleck) through the investigation of down-and-out PI Louis Simo (Adrien Brody)

The cover art for the video rental release emphasized the sex appeal of the film’s femme fatale – an emotionally erratic good-time girl portrayed by Virginia Madsen - despite the fact that the character has relatively little screen time and appears mostly in short flashbacks as the film’s typically flawed hero tries to piece together the plot, while the unimaginative tagline of “Hot kiss, cold sweat, last chance” provided few clues to narrative content beyond suggesting elements of jeopardy and sexuality.

The art-house circuit was been served by such auteur pieces as Trouble in Mind from Alive Films and House of Games from Orion. Adult audiences were catered to by numerous Cannon Films productions such as 52 Pick Up (John Frankenheimer, 1986), Murphy’s Law (Thompson, 1986), and Tough Guys Don’t Dance (Norman Mailer, 1987) before the cycle of Jim Thompson adaptations that started at the end of the decade with The Kill Off from Cabriolet Films and was swiftly followed by After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley, 1990) from Avenue Pictures and The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990) from Miramax.

The Hot Spot (Dennis Hopper, 1990) would cast Don Johnson, Jennifer Connelly, and Slam Dance siren Virginia Madsen; and Hopper appeared as a hitman in Red Rock West with Nicolas Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle. Romeo is Bleeding (Peter Medak, 1993) is one of the more peculiar examples of star packaging, with a British leading man (Gary Oldman) and a Swedish co-star (Lena Olin) heading a cast that otherwise comprises two supporting actresses who never quite achieved genuine stardom (Anabella Sciorra and Juliette Lewis) and a veteran of numerous earlier attempts at noir revival (Roy Scheider).

Levy argues that “neo-noir in the 1990s is loaded with the excesses of overeager directors, playing with noir’s ominous shadows and tough-guy poses to make their own contributions,” referring to the proliferation of such product during this period. Also, production costs and the salaries of even mid-range stars had increased to the point that post-studio film noirs like Romeo is Bleeding – which was produced by Polygram Filmed Entertainment and grossed $3.2 million against a budget of $11.5 million – could no longer rely on the video rental market to propel their returns into the realm of profitability. The escalating production cost of such independent noirs as Romeo is Bleeding had taken the genre from the low-budget realms of Blood Simple into the industrial middle range, severely limiting the profit potential of a niche genre.

The writer-director John Dahl has specialized in film noir for much of his career and is responsible for the independent noirs Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, and The Last Seduction, each of which followed a similar path to audience appreciation. These three films were financed by, respectively, Propaganda Films, Red Rock Films, and ITC Entertainment, with Kill Me Again costing $4 million,43 Red Rock West costing $8 million,44 and The Last Seduction costing $2.5 million. They were initially screened at festivals and received positive reviews, but they were not picked it up for distribution, possibly because Dahl’s film noirs seemed too low-key for the major cinema chains, yet they were too proficient as genre pieces to appeal to film students.

Kill Me Again found a home at MGM/UA while Red Rock West was picked up by Columbia and The Last Seduction was sold to independent distributor October Films. In the short term, each of Dahl’s films became a victim of what in industry parlance is called “dumping”; this means that the distributors did not have sufficient commercial confidence in their purchases so they were quietly sent to cable television or video. This, however, proved to be the best thing that could have happened to each film. Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, and The Last Seduction attracted audience attention on the small screen, where an adult audience that was being ill-served by big screen releases was able to enjoy their twisted narratives of cross and double-cross.

Many critics became champions of the director, with Ebert commenting that, “The Last Seduction is the second amazing film I’ve seen by John Dahl, whose Red Rock West was a sleeper hit in early 1994. He makes movies so smart and cynical that the American movie industry doesn’t know how to handle him.” After taking a look at Red Rock West with a view to its theatrical prospects, the independent marketing consultant Peter Graves concluded that “the film doesn’t fall neatly into any marketable category. A western film noir isn’t something people can immediately spark to.”

Blood Simple, with its Texas setting and similarly plotted tale of a duplicitous wife, husband, and fall-guy trying to outwit each other against the desert landscape, had proved otherwise a decade earlier, but the success of that film had obviously been forgotten by industry marketers. However, belated theatrical runs were arranged for each film based on their enthusiastic reception on the cable channel HBO or the home video market. Although Kill Me Again and Red Rock West were sold to studios, their theatrical releases were handled by independent distributors, with Interstar grossing $283,69449 for the former and Roxie’s release of the latter proving more successful with a $2.5 million gross.50 October Films released The Last Seduction themselves after selling the cable rights to HBO, where it debuted months before the theatrical run, with the film grossing $6.1 million at the box office.

Even though Dahl’s films eventually enjoyed theatrical exposure, the unlikely manner by which they reached the big screen serves to show how studio dominance had restricted distribution channels for even superior examples of independent noir. Within the context of the home video market, Dahl’s films – like such similar independent offerings as The Hot Spot and Romeo is Bleeding – were not only competing with the multiple copies of recent big-budget studio blockbusters that were being regularly added to the shelves at Blockbuster, but with cheaper, sleazier versions of their brand of film noir.

Video noirs such as Woman of Desire (Robert Ginty, 1994), Payback, Hourglass (C. Thomas Howell, 1996), and The Last Seduction II (Terry Marcel, 1999) offer blatant low-budget imitations of genre classics like Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) and The Postman Always Rings Twice with more explicit sex scenes at regular narrative intervals. The Last Seduction II was not an unofficial remake of an earlier film noir classic but a sequel to a recent critical and commercial success. -"A Companion to Film Noir" (2013) by Andrew Spicer & Helen Hanson

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