Just Another Noir (2011)

Description (frombadninja9.com/JustAnotherNoir.html):
New Orleans is a dirty Place, full of vice and indulgence. When a young Artist goes missing among its tight knit libertine community, his sister comes to town in hope of finding him, only to be confronted by an Impotent Police Force and a dopey detective/life coach, who has no interest in abandoning his ascetic lifestyle for the loose living of his neighbors, or getting in the bad guys way.

Major Cast:
Dorian Dardar as Dorian Hudson, Aspen Steib as Erin Smith, Jamie Teer as Mary-Ann

Special Features:
None

Written and Directed by Dorian Dardar

Film noir (\-ˈnwär\), noun: a type of crime film featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography and foreboding background music (from Merriam-Webster). Noir is a tough to define genre, but it is most commonly associated with films from the 40’s through the 60’s that have some common characteristics. They usually deal in the world of crime, often with a private investigator or a detective as the protagonist, have a femme fatale, have witty dialogue, feature a lot of voice-over, and are most prominently characterized by their striking visual style. “Film noir” literally means “black film” in French, and was coined by Nino Frank, a French critic, in 1946; the visuals are obviously a huge part of this genre, and if you’ve ever seen a noir (or even most neo-noirs, like BLADE RUNNER, attempt to keep this high contrast, striking visual style even if they are not in black and white) you’d know it. Now that we all (kind of) understand what a noir is, is JUST ANOTHER NOIR a noir? Kind of.

One of the many very-oddly angled and composed shots from throughout JAN
One of the many very-oddly angled and composed shots from throughout JAN

JAN has some of the aspects of the genre for sure. The main character, Dorian Hudson, is a private investigator. Erin could be considered a femme fatale (defined by Merriam as “a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations”). There is some voice over. So… there are some aspects of the noir. On the other hand, there is a lot missing. The dialogue is occasionally witty, but must of the time falls flat, and the visual aspect is not there at all (film grain effects don’t count), as there is no heavy contrast lighting, no highlighting of eyes or shots through mirrors or windows to speak of, no striking visuals. And the “foreboding background music” was pretty much non-existent. So I’d have to vote “no,” this is not a noir, it is not a neo-noir, and it is at best a knock off of the genre that gets some bits right and a lot wrong.

Story-wise, I didn’t totally dislike JAN. It has your average noir like tale – sexy lady hires a dick to find her brother that has turned up missing – and while the plot doesn’t do too much out of the ordinary, what it does it does relatively well. The problem is that this plot is just that: ordinary. It’s not a parody of noirs, it’s not twisty enough to really get me into the story and really deeply want to know what happens next (or for that matter, care), and it’s just run-of-the-mill average not-too-mysterious-mystery. One turn really pissed me off; towards the end all of a sudden Dorian explains to the father of his employer everything that happened… which he never discovered within the context of the film. Huh? When did he find this stuff out, and if he did find this stuff out why wasn’t it important enough to make part of the film, especially when we can spend time with his little old lady Tai Chi class in the park?

Somehow, the crime boss (in the hat) has risen in the ranks of evil and taken of the city of NOLA by age 28, apparently.
Somehow, the crime boss (in the hat) has risen in the ranks of evil and taken of the city of NOLA by age 28, apparently.

The dialogue was not up to par for a noir. A noir has a certain panache, a certain delivery style, a certain twang to it, and overall JAN was absent of this. There were moments that were nice, and almost got the dialogue to this point; occasionally JAN actually got a laugh out of me with the turn of phrase, but these moments were few and far between and in a true noir that witty turn of phrase should be coming with machine gun repetition. It doesn’t help that the delivery of the lines was not up to the proficiency level it would need to be to elicit that feeling that the old noir’s have; it takes both a good script and great delivery of that script to make the dialogue in a noir shine.

I realize that JAN is a nearly guerilla-style film – much was shot on the streets of New Orleans, and I’m sure there were no permits or oks to do so – but still, the production values really dragged the film down in a lot of places. The fact that it was shot on not-the-greatest digital camera is not bad for me, I can get around that, but trying to cover that with video effects really took me out of the film. For the first good bit of the film, JAN goes back and forth between “film grain,” a “sepia” like tone, and some “surveillance” shots. This didn’t add anything to the movie, at all. What it could have used, if it were going to have some fake digital effects, was some high-contrast black and white! There was one more HUGE peeve that took me right out of the story (and as a filmmaker you need to avoid anything that takes your audience out of the story) and that was Dardar’s digital censorship. There were multiple shots where there were obviously logos or titles that were not licensed for use, and instead of taking the time to remove them or creatively cover them during the shooting process, he covered later with very strange digital blurs that make it look like an old episode of COPS gone crazy. As a no-budget filmmaker, preparation is hugely important, you can’t “fix it in post,” otherwise it looks horrible. Like this.

Don't look on the left side of the screen.  There is nothing to see here.
Don’t look on the left side of the screen. There is nothing to see here.

Don’t get me wrong: JAN was not all bad. It had some good ideas and some good bits here and there. While the plot was not super-original, it was done well, and the addition of the martial arts aspect was a bit different. The acting was overall not great, but Steib gave a great performance, and Dardar had his moments where I got into his character (I probably would have been able to appreciate the character and his acting more if there were not so many distractions – e.g. the “censorship” – while he was on-screen). The fight scenes were not good, but they were ambitious and I have to give Dardar credit for that. Also, he managed to get some important genre staples into his film that will help most any low-budget film: boobs and blood. As shallow or silly as it sounds, these factors are often very important if you have a film at this level that wants to have any chance to getting seen; Dardar was able to get a nice-looking girl topless so that’s a pro on the boobs front, but the blood was pretty minimal and there were no “effects” really to speak of to go along with it, which is kind of expected if you are going to get blood into a low-budget film. The music that was in the film was overall pretty good (except for one track that had a lyrical delivery of odd talking/screaming), but really just wasn’t what a noir should have. The dialogue was ADR, which was actually a really nice touch for such a low-budget film; the vast majority of the dialogue was crisp and very easy to hear and understand. Unfortunately this also added some of its own issues: there were parts where the dialogue was seemingly recorded in a bathroom and sounded that way even though the scene was outside, and many other places where it didn’t quite match up to what was on screen (which again takes the viewer out of the experience), but again I have to give props for taking the chance on ADR with no-budget.

Ninja!
Ninja!

Overall, I just couldn’t get into JAN. To begin with, it is playing in a genre with very specific rules, but not living up to its requirements, so right away I had a hard time with getting into the movie. Then there were a lot of distractions and issues that pulled me out of the viewing experience once I actually started to get into it. There were some silver linings to JAN; I can see that there is some talent and certainly love of cinema, and it was nice to see an attempt at a genre I don’t get sent to review, well, ever. With some better planning, some better aesthetic decisions, and some better casting, JAN could have been a much better film.

Overall 4 / 10

JAN on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2069818/

JAN for sale: https://www.createspace.com/320853

JAN site: http://badninja9.com/JustAnotherNoir.html

Just Another Noir (2011)
Just Another Noir (2011)
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