My Name is Modesty

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“Not at all what you’d expect from the sleeve, yet by no means terrible.”

The word is, Miramax made this in order to keep their rights to the Modesty Blaise series active: I imagine a clause reverted them back to creator Peter O’Donnell, if unused within X years. Tarantino wanted to direct it, but couldn’t find the time, hence this stop-gap directed by journeyman Spiegel, who’s familiar with Quentin cast-offs, having also directed From Dusk Till Dawn 2. Shot in 18 Romanian days, the limitations of time and budget are clear [save admittedly copious flashbacks, the movie is almost all set in one location], but given them, it’s by no means a disaster. The main failing is the lack of action; we don’t see alleged jet-setting, goddess of kick-butt Blaise do much at all until the last few minutes. This may be because Staden looks as if she’d struggle to move forward in a stiff breeze; seeing her trading blows is unconvincing, and the fight choreographer should have focused on speed and/or agility instead. Though in terms of presence and steely gaze, she does fit the part well.

I remember the books from my youth, and the huge disappointment I felt when I saw the 1966 camp abortion starring Monica Vitti [there was also an 1982 TV pilot, with Ann Turkel, which I haven’t found]. This “origin” story is an improvement, at least taking the characters seriously. Blaise is trapped in a casino by a robber with a grudge against the owner (Waldau), and as they wait for the guy with the safe combination to arrive, she trades stories of her past for the freedom of the other hostages, Arabian Nights style, almost. I’d be somewhat curious to see the original cut, which apparently ran nearly two hours. Now, it’s barely 70 minutes between Bond-esque opening and closing credits, yet is still pretty talky, Blaise and her mentor (Pearson) meandering between the Balkans and Morocco.

That’s not a necessarily a bad thing; the short length, and decent performances from the two leads, help make it very watchable. However, expect hardcore action, rather than a psychological character study, and you’ll be very disappointed. Indeed, even fans of the series may mourn, for example, the lack of Blaise sidekick, Willie Garvin, a lynchpin of the books and comic strips. All this does support the whispers it was indeed no more than a holding tactic by Miramax, but on its own terms, we enjoyed this. With some minor tweakage, we’d have interest in Modesty’s further adventures. Whether Tarantino is the best person to direct them…that I’m less sure of!

Dir: Scott Spiegel
Stars: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Fred Pearson, Raymond Cruz

Taking Lives

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“Another great concept is let down by depressingly obvious scripting.”

Rarely has a film started so promisingly, and gone so consistently downhill. The start is fabulous, with one of the most shocking moments I’ve seen…though if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll have had it spoiled. But regardless, the first time we meet FBI profiler Illeana Scott (Jolie), on special assignment to Montreal, she’s lying in a grave. She is hard as nails, and takes absolutely no crap from anyone: her local friend, Captain Leclair (Karyo) hardly needs to bother protecting her, despite the nicely-handled cross-border tension. The case is that of a serial killer who, as the title suggests, inhabits the lives of his victims: the crack comes when his mother (Rowlands), believing him dead for two decades, spots him in Montreal by chance. However, the only other person to have seen the suspect is art-gallery owner James Costa (Hawke), but Scott starts finding her emotions getting in the way of her work…

Which is where the film loses its way, deflating like a leaky balloon. We are forced to watch the inevitable sexual tension between these two characters; seeing Scott go about her business would be infinitely less cliched and predictable. There is a twist that is so obvious you’d need to be unconscious not to see it coming – though I’d forgive you for falling asleep during the aforementioned sexual tension – and a final act that appears to have been taken from a bad 80’s slasher movie. These failings merely open the door for you to stare more closely at the plot, and you realise large chunks of it are on wobbly ground. For example, Scott deduces from a draft that a bookcase must conceal a hidden door: er, why not simply an A/C vent? Part Se7en, part Silence of the Lambs, this comes over as taking the less effective elements from each film, leaving the potential of a female Sherlock Holmes sadly under-realised.

Dir: D.J. Caruso
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Tchéky Karyo, Ethan Hawke, Gena Rowlands