Studio: E1 Entertainment
Cast: Tanit Phoenix, Kit Willisee, Ana Alexander, Heidi James, Christine Donlon, Paul Mazursky, Anya Monzikova, Carlee Baker, Reggie Hayes, Daphne Duplaix, Tina Casciani, Cristin Michele, Catherine Annett, Madison Dylan, Dean Haglund, Tiffany Brouwer, Ellie Cornell, Ashley Levis, Stephen Macht, Stacy Sas, Angus Scrimm, Tammy Felice, Arloa Reston, Jordan Madley, Marc Crumpton
Director: Greg Pritikin, Darin Scott, Mark A. Altman, Michael Hurst, Robert Meyer Burnett
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sex, language, violence)
Run Time: 03h:40m:00s
Genre(s): television, thriller, adult
"Femme Fatale: an irresistibly attractive woman, esp. one who leads men into difficult, dangerous or disastrous situations; siren." - opening title card
I like the premise of this sexy Cinemax anthology quasi-noir series more than I like the actual eps themselves, which is essentially attractive women taking control of various nasty situations, as well as being nude most of the time. They don't call it Skinemax for nothing.
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Grade: B-
An anthology series like Femme Fatales was truly made for pay-cable, conceptually designed as it around beautiful women with their clothes off. Plus, cable channel Cinemax has never shied away from excessive nudity, so there couldn't be a better home for it. Sure, that's the simplistic description, but without that element the whole shebang would collapse inward and carry none of the sexy sizzle. Based in part on the cult magazine (yes, I was a regular reader for awhile) and billing itself as a pulpy/noir cross between "Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone" each episode features an enigmatic-yet-sultry hostess (Tanit Phoenix), an assortment of attractive people, nudity, sex and twisty "gotcha" storylines.
That's not a terrible premise. Not by a long shot. With each episode running a lean 30 minutes there isn't much time for the narrative to go off track, and with the abundance of skin/sex there is no shortage of eyeball appeal. While I certainly applaud the idea more than I do the execution it's hard not to root for Femme Fatales, because a series like this serves its own very special purpose. It delivers what it promises to honestly and directly, and it delivers it without any semblance of being high art or low-grade trash. Instead it hovers in a magical layer all its own, one where murder, sex, ghosts, revenge and seemingly unlimited bared breasts are the order of the day. There's a balancing act going on here, and while it tilts to the bosom-side more often than not there is no denying the presentation tries hard to be true to its heady attempt to channel Hitchcock and Serling, all while titillating viewers.
The reality, however, is that I don't think anyone will be elevating Femme Fatales alongside Hitch and Rod anytime soon. But that's not to say there isn't plenty to enjoy here, understanding that the very nature of anthologies is generally somewhat hit-or-miss, even for the great ones. That hard-and-fast rule applies here, with some eps significantly stronger than others, though none are exactly the stuff of storytelling legend. There is a comfortable familiarity in the cadence of each episode, because we the viewer know upfront there will be frequent skin and the series' own brand of girl power on display, with the plot squeezed in where needed.
In small doses - as opposed to watching the season back to back on disc - Femme Fatales works pretty well for what it is. And I mean that with the highest form of flattery.
FYI - Though it doesn't matter from a story standpoint since this is an anthology but the episode lineup on this set is not presented in original air date sequence:
The White Flower
Original Air Date: 06/10/11
Something Like Murder
Original Air Date: 05/27/11
Behind Locked Doors Part One
Original Air Date: 05/13/11
Behind Locked Doors Part Two
Original Air Date: 05/14/11
Original Air Date: 06/03/11
Original Air Date: 05/20/11
Girls Gone Dead
Original Air Date: 06/17/11
Till Death Do Us Part
Original Air Date: 07/22/11
Help Me, Rhonda
Original Air Date: 07/08/11
Original Air Date: 07/15/11
Original Air Date: 06/24/11
Angels & Demons
Original Air Date: 07/01/11
Visions: Part One
Original Air Date: 07/29/11
Visions: Part Two
Original Air Date: 08/05/11
All 14 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Nothing particularly noteworthy about the mediocre transfers, other than to mention the fleshtones (and boy, are there a lot of them here) look quite natural, balanced by a generally even-keeled color palette. Black levels get a bit wonky here and there, and from an overall image standpoint there is a tendency for some mild softness.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, with dialogue coming across cleanly, with no measurable hiss or distortion. Surround cues are modest but evident, and the presentation is consistently more pleasantly agreeable than the hit-or-miss quality of the image transfers.
Let it never be said that this three-disc set is skimpy on extras, because it is pretty much the opposite. For starters all 14 episodes - spread across discs one and two - have individual commentaries, with series co-create Mark A. Altman being the common presence. The tracks have a rotating supporting cast, including appearances by series writers, directors, producers, actors (including Dean Haglund on the Girls Gone Dead ep) and even the composer. Is it overkill? Perhaps, but I will never condemn a release that gives me too much to choose from. Yes, some of the content tends to cover similar ground, and none of it is especially revelatory, but the discussions of the show's use of sex/nudity is refreshing.
The third disc is devoted solely to supplements and kicks off with a set Featurettes looking at various aspects of the production, consisting of Creating Femme Fatales (13m:32s), Shooting Femme Fatales: The Making of Season One (29m:55s) and Making Love: Anatomy of a Sex Scene (15m:22s). The San Diego Comic Con 2011 Panel (44m:27s) is the weak link here, a fairly rambling collection of participants that seems more self-congratulatory than informative.
Also included is a Blooper Reel (05m:00s), an automated Photo Gallery (02m:44s), The White Flower: Director's Cut (19m:30s) - presented in black-and-white and with an optional commentary track from director Michael Hurst and creator Mark A. Altman, a set of Deleted/Alternate scenes (37m:55s), three Femme Fatales previews and perhaps most curiously an isolated music score from the episode Help Me, Rhonda.
Posted by: Rich Rosell - February 23, 2013, 8:57 am - DVD Review
Keywords: pulp, noir, femme fatales, tanit phoenix, anthology