Neo-Noir Deux: Romeo is Bleeding (1993) + Black Widow (1987)

July 25, 2016 | By

As you’ll find embedded in the following reviews, a lot of neo-noirs were made during the 80s and 90s, most of which are tremendous fun, and many of which did not do the great business their respective filmmakers had hoped; with excellent actors, taut direction, solid scripts, and provocative female leads and imagery, neo-noirs tended to find their audiences on home video and cable TV rather than the big screens. (1992’s Basic Instinct may be a neo-noir, but it’s also responsible for launching the eroto-thriller, a vibrant, overdone, and ultimately cheapened sub-genre which thrived in the direct-to-video / straight-to-cable realms.)

The two films released on Blu by Twilight Time I caught during their original theatrical runs, and although each has its share of flaws, they’re personal favourites.

BlackWidow1987_posterThe trailers for Bob Rafelson’s Black Widow (1987) looked teasing and provocative and pulpy, and when Shoppers Drug Mart was offering $2.00 Cineplex movie coupons and I had a free afternoon between classes, I used one to catch Widow at the old Eaton’s Centre, the world’s first Cineplex multi-screen movie house, where good movies were often dumped after a perfunctory release on bigger screens, or where bad movies debuted and faded, fulfilling a producer’s absolute minimum theatrical release obligations. (It’s also where Canadian movies would appear for a day or two, just to earn a legit theatrical release date.)

Cineplex was known / infamous for developing a glorified rear projection system that resulted in a lower grade picture; the process allowed the chain to pack more films into more small, shoebox theatres, and replicate the set-up in many shopping centres around Canada and inevitably the U.S. Co-founded by Garth Drabinsky, it was a brilliant scheme that changed the way movies were shown, offering variety in place of quality, and ticket prices that competed against the bigger chains like Famous Players.

Critics at the time highlighted Black Widow as Rafelson and cinematographer Conrad Hall’s collective return to film after long absences, and neither disappointed in what remains a slick little thriller. Michael Small’s score was barely perceptible, but his name also stuck in my mind, and it took a few decades but the music eventually made its way to CD via Intrada Records.

RomeoIsBleeding1993_posterRomeo is Bleeding (1993) was another gem I knew would die fast at the box office because it was just too odd and dark, and it’s second half runs into a lot of problems, but it also represents a high point in Peter Medak’s directing career; he’s arguably one of the most adept filmmakers in tackling crime tales with sometimes exceptionally dark humour and sadistic violence.

Romeo has its share of brief brutality, and although Lena Olin received the lion’s share of attention for vivifying a hitwoman who gets off on tormenting men (I’d argue her erotic cackling as men squirm between her scissor-legs inspired thigh-strangling Xenia Onatopp in the 1995 Bond actioner Goldeneye), it’s Gary Oldman who carries the show, playing a tough character straight, no matter how ridiculous his circumstances. It’s a great underrated performance that like the film, is often overlooked.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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