Wednesday, November 26, 2008


(The RUMINATING IN MY PANTS series isn't really a review feature so much as it is just me rambling about shit. But hell, you'll figure that out toot-fucking-sweet 'cause you're so damned smart.)

John Dahl is still doing good work. He's directing episodes for major television shows like Battlestar Galactica, True Blood, Californication, and Dexter. Last year's You Kill Me was a thoroughly enjoyable rom-com/mob thriller with some great work by Tea Leoni and Ben Kingsley that was unjustly over-looked. And I really like his middle period work like horror thriller Joy Ride (arguably his best movie) and Rounders (it single-handedly made hold 'em cool, don't argue with me).

But that being said, I miss the days when he was America's noir auteur.

I caught his debut, Kill Me Again (1989), on one of the Encore channels the other night and it reminded me of my youth. No, not in the sense that as a boy I was involved in faking people's deaths and owed money to the mob - that didn't come about until I had a driver's license. When I was in middle school I recall reading a Roger Ebert review of The Last Seduction (1994) and then promptly going out and renting that and the other two Dahl noirs, the aforementioned Kill Me Again and 1992's Red Rock West and having an absolute nerdgasm in my parent's basement (Don't worry, I cleaned up afterwards).

These three movies were fine modern examples of the films I pored over in elementary school when I was forced, due to my parent's strict no R-rated movies policy, to watch nothing but old movies. Back then I figured that if I couldn't watch "adult" movies of the current generation, why not catch up with all those "adult" movies in the back of the video store with no ratings on them? And no, I am not talking about "the back of the video store" as in "behind the beaded curtain back of the video store." I'm talking about the "classics" section.

It was there that I discovered that the best movies were almost always film noirs, the edgiest offerings of the post-WWII era. These movies had cool stars like Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, John Garfield, Sterling Hayden, and Richard Widmark doing badass things that you could only get away with in B-movies. They had lots of violence and their stories were complicated and surprising. But the thing that most impressed me was that they almost always felt dangerous, like anything could happen, that there would be no simple moral at the end like most of the entertainment aimed at kids my age.

Okay, so I was a fucked up nerdy little kid. Not much has changed, I guess...

But back to Dahl, when I was finally able to get my parents' congress to pass my "R-rated movies are okay" amendment, I soon figured out that the early nineties had had a mini golden age of neo-noir filmmaking, and that John Dahl was leading the pack. Kill Me Again was like an even more twisted Double Indemnity with an added bonus of a crazy villain played by a young Michael Madsen. Red Rock West played like Dahl had put about ten old B-movies in a blender and hit "puree" then took the cap off and let the mess cover the room (translation: it was awesome). And The Last Seduction was basically the end-all-be-all of femme fatale films, taking the classic icon of B-movies as far as it could possibly go and never looking back.

None of them were necessarily going to edge out any other pictures and make my "Ultimate Noir Canon" list, but they were all super-solid and I was convinced that Dahl was going to develop into one of the great genre directors, that he was going to hack at it and hack at it until he had made the greatest neo-noir ever.

Then I saw Unforgettable with Ray Liotta and I lost all hope. Jesus, what a piece of shit.

As I said up top, dude still makes some damn fine movies that are nothing to balk at. The guy has proven himself at sports movies (Rounders), horror movies (Joy Ride), war movies (The Great Raid) and rom coms (You Kill Me), all of them with elements of film noir thrown in. I just wish that he could get his hands on motherfucker of a crime film script - or hell, that he'd start writing again. After all, he wrote Kill Me Again and Red Rock West all by his lonesome in the beginning.

According to imdb, Dahl has nothing in the works at the moment. Mr. Dahl, since you no doubt check this site every morning, I implore you: make another noir, even if it's just for your lonely fan the Nerd of Noir.

I can promise you my business. Shit, I might even go twice.

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