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DVD Review: Femme Fatales: The Complete Second Season
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Femme FatalesFemme Fatales
The Complete Second Season
DVD
Directed by Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett
Starring Tanit Phoenix, Eric Roberts, Steve Railsback
Entertainment One
Release Date: July 16, 2013

The Cinemax series Femme Fatales must be some kind of hit for the pay cable network best known for having a saucier programming line-up than their competition. As the old saying goes, if it’s 1 a.m. in the morning and two big-bosomed lesbians are getting it on then brother you’re probably watching Cinemax. Based partially on a long-running men’s magazine specializing in profiles of actresses and starlets from the B-grade sci-fi, horror, and action flicks going back six decades or more, Femme Fatales is an anthology series designed to appeal to the periodical’s readership. The show features stories of crime, passion, betrayal, murder, and occasionally some truly off-the-wall material that star at least one or two recognizable characters actors or actresses who never quite took hold of that big brass ring but still manage to keep their careers alive and kicking.

The show’s second season ran from May to August of 2012 and now Entertainment One has collected every episode in the new 3-disc DVD set Femme Fatales: The Complete Second Season.

Mark A. Altman, whose company Mindfire Entertainment published the magazine for seven years, co-created the series with Steven Kriozere. Altman’s past credits include writing and producing several movies you most likely saw collecting dust in the horror section of your local Blockbuster Video. Among those treasured titles are House of the Dead (Uwe Boll’s first video game-based movie), House of the Dead 2, All Souls Day, Room 6, and Dead and Deader. But before his career descended into a miasma of unwatchable DTV schlock Altman also produced the James Gunn-scripted superhero team spoof The Specials and both produced and co-wrote the smart and hilarious 1999 geek comedy gem Free Enterprise with his longtime friend and collaborator Robert Meyer Burnett. Burnett also directed Free Enterprise and three episodes from Femme‘s second season, including both the season premiere and finale, as well as producing extensive bonus features for various DVD and Blu-ray releases through his company Ludovico Technique.

Each episode is hosted in wraparound segments by the character Lilith, played by South African actress and model Tanit Phoenix. Most of the plots draw from film noir thrillers and mysteries with plenty of twists and turns, but since this is Cinemax there’s plenty of bloody violence and steamy sex scenes as well. The low-wattage guest star line-up for this season includes Ashley Hamilton (most recently seen blowing up in Iron Man 3), Leilani Sarelle (Basic Instinct), Antonio Sabato Jr., Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill), Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), and Ellie Cornell (Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers).

The cast for the season isn’t a total loss. Also making appearances are Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Kyle Gass (Tenacious D), Steve Railsback (The Devil’s Rejects), and Jeff Fahey (Machete). Sure these guys have done their fair share of crap but they’re almost always worth watching for their unique presences alone. Buddy Giovinazzo, best known for making cult films like Combat Shock and Life is Hot in Cracktown, directs one of the season’s finest episodes in the Double Indemnity-lite tale “Trophy Wife,” while Tales from the Hood scribe Darin Scott gets the most directing credits of anyone with five episodes under his belt.

As previously mentioned each episode of Femme Fatales contains a lot of sex. A lot. The obviousness of every sex scene’s simulated nature probably won’t detract you from your enjoyment of the show. After all, if you want more hardcore sex in your life then either shut off your computer and go on a date or find better things to do with your time online than read my crummy reviews. Don’t blame me for your lack of a love life, you pathetic nerd. Anyway, sorry I got off track for a moment there. Every character in the show gets it on at some point, same sex couplings excepted. The nudity is rampant and glorious. Clearly the actresses were hired for their ability to look amazing in the buff, as were most of the younger actors. The more experienced performers get to keep their expensive suits on and stroll about reciting the corny, mock pulp dialogue that veers awful close to a camp send-up of moody crime drama. The world of Femme Fatales is more Dick Tracy, less The Departed. Every character is a well-worn archetype, every line of dialogue belonging in a word balloon above the actor’s head, and every villain is a laughing grotesque.

For some reason the episodes in this set are not included in their original broadcast order. Since there isn’t an ongoing story line running throughout the season this doesn’t make much of a difference. The twelve episodes comprising Femme Fatales‘ second season are split across two discs, with a third disc devoted to bonus features.

Episode List

Disc One:

1. Family Business
2. Trophy Wife
3. Gun Twisted
4. Killer Instinct
5. 16 Minutes of Fame
6. Bad Science

Disc Two:

7. Extracurricular Activities
8. Jailbreak
9. Crazy Mary
10. One Man’s Death
11. Hell Hath No Furies
12. Libra

The running times of each episode varies between a half-hour and a full hour. Some of them have a bit too much fat on their bones, while others are lean, muscular machines that hurtle forth at a breakneck pace. The season finale “Libra,” about a superhero and a gangland stooge taking on the mob for revenge, features a story and original artwork by Marvel/DC Comics writer and artist extraordinaire Bob Layton. The show takes place primarily in the fictional crime-dominated metropolis of Cuesta Verde, which horror fans will recognize as a reference to the haunted suburban neighborhood in 1982′s Poltergeist.

The acting isn’t the best but it works for the show. Direction, editing, production design, and music (composed by Joe Kraemer, who recently served in the same capacity on Jack Reacher) are all solid and polished. Everyone involved in the show is really good at what they do and deliver professional work all around. On certain occasions characters from one episode will cross over into another. Pop culture references flow like wine. Femme Fatales is the kind of series that knows all too well what it means to be a guilty pleasure, except that it feels no guilt. Nor should it. Women might like it, but guys will definitely love it.

Video

Each episode is presented in 16:9 enhanced transfers in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Filmed with Red One digital cameras and originally broadcast in 1080p high-definition, the show looks fantastic and very pleasing to the eye. The atmospheric cinematography is very clean and bright while picture details have been sharpened to practical perfection. English subtitles have also been included.

Audio

English 2.0 stereo and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio tracks are supplied for every episode. Even on standard television set-ups the 5.1 channel is the best way to go. Music and dialogue and bolstered to maximum levels of effectiveness without drowning each other and causing noticeable instances of audio distortion.

Special Features

Each episode gets a jovial and informative commentary from the cast and crew, while “Libra” gets an additional isolated score track with commentary from composer Kraemer. The bulk of the extras can be found on the third disc. Under the sub-menu “Season Two Featurettes” we have: “Libra Rising – Making Libra” (13 minutes), a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the season finale with cast and crew interviews; “It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Business – Making Family Business” (10 minutes), another BTS look at a particular episode; a motion comic featuring Bob Layton’s original artwork from the “Libra” episode (1 minute); “Defining Femme Fatales” (8 minutes), which discusses the female characters from the show with more cast and crew interviews; “Lilith: Daughter of Darkness” (3 minutes), naturally focusing on Phoenix’s voluptuous host; and “The Beautiful Femmes of Femme Fatales” (3 minutes), more clips of the sexy women looking good and kicking ass.

Back at the main menu we get the international cut of “Libra” in two parts (57 minutes) with optional commentary, a 1970s style opening credits sequence for the “Hell Hath No Furies” episode, footage from the season two premiere party at the ArcLight (1 minute), a collection of episode bumpers (7 minutes), a season two sizzle reel (5 minutes), a 2012 San Diego Comic-Con panel (17 minutes), a video still gallery (2 minutes), and a handful of deleted and extended scenes from various episodes (13 minutes).

Last Words

Femme Fatales: The Complete Second Season is three discs of pure cheesy pulp fiction for mature audiences delivered hot and ready with a bullet and a deranged smile. You might not remember an episode once its finished, but you might dig the hell out of the experience. Either way, watching this series will be a better use of your time and a much kinder method of decaying your brain cells than any reality show on television.

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