As a life-long-lover of Genre cinema, I jumped with joy back in 1996 when Miramax films, home of Merchant-Ivory and The English Patient, launched Dimension Films as an off-shoot Producer/Distributor for Genre pictures… more specifically Horror and Sci-Fi related titles that might not seem quite as at home under the Miramax banner. Beginning with the amazing Scream and following with a long list of both good, and some not-so-good B-Movies, I always knew what to expect from films that bore the Dimension Films name. With such high profile releases as Cursed, Sin City and The Brothers Grimm coming out soon they certainly remain at the top of the genre heap.
The reason I bring all this up is because My Name Is Modesty, released under the Miramax banner, totally deserved the attention that the Dimension Films name often adds to a genre pic. I feel that this small, engaging and highly entertaining picture was just dumped haphazardly on the video market because the almighty Miramax didn't know what to do with it. I'm not saying that the film deserved a place on the Big Screen, but as it is, it barely registered as a blip on the radar, even with Quentin Tarantino's name emblazoned on the DVD cover as the film's Executive Producer.
Speaking of Quentin Tarantino, it's most likely his involvement that firmly kept this under Harvey's watchful eye. QT has long been a fan of the Modesty Blaise Novels (John Travolta is even seen reading one in Pulp Fiction) and comic series, both by Peter O'Donnell, and this film gives fans and newbies alike, a prequel to establish the character of Miss Blaise before her later adventures. In a very lengthy and in depth "Geek Out" between QT and Director, Scott Spiegel, found in the Extra Features, they discuss their mutual love of the character and how this particular script filled in a gap that was hinted at, but never actually discussed in any of the available source material. It was also interesting to hear them talk about the films that inspired them in order to pull off this film, shot over a period of 18 days in Romania. As a majority of the film takes place in a single location, a private casino, Roger Corman's Rock All Night, which similarly takes place over the course of a single night, on a single set.
Not having any personal experience with the character of Modesty Blaise, I expected My Name Is Modesty to be a gun-happy, Kung-Fu-crazy action pic, but what I got instead was a very compelling character piece, one which introduces us to this strong and mysterious woman, Modesty Blaise (Alexandra Staden), but also sets us up for her adventures yet to come. We meet Modesty in her late teens, working at a privately owned casino in Tangiers. Shortly after closing up for the night, a group of armed raiders murder her boss and storm the casino. Modesty quickly takes control of the situation, realizing that the lives of her friends and co-workers are in her hands. Sadly, the motive is strictly revenge, as tough guy, Miklos (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is out to avenge his father's death and steal the casino's money in the process.
What follows is an intriguing game of chance as Modesty and Miklos play a high stakes game of Roulette, with lives hanging in the balance. For every spin Modesty wins, one of her friends goes free. Every spin Miklos wins, a layer of Modesty's past is revealed to us, beginning with her wandering childhood as a refugee of the Balkan war, to her mentoring by the Old Teacher known simply as Lob (Fred Pearson). The clever use of flashbacks to reveal Modesty's past as the stakes to a game is very compelling, especially since it's made clear from the beginning that she is a woman who treasures her secrets. There are only short bursts of action throughout the piece, with the exception of the final confrontation where we see what Modesty can really do, but that does little to slow the pace or lessen the enjoyment that this film brings.
Picture: The movie is presented in a Widescreen (1:85.1) Aspect Ratio. It seems to have been shot on Super 16mm, but at times looks like it could have been done on 35mm film.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track sounds great. Again, for a film shot on a limited budget, the sound design really works and provides a full, rich mix. There are optional English and Spanish subtitles available as well.
Extras: I am happy to report that there are several Extra Features on this disc. My favorites happened to be a 40+ minute conversation between Quentin Tarantino and Scott Spiegel in regards to the finished movie and Modesty Blaise in general and a Retrospective of Modesty Blaise Comics and Artwork. There are two separate commentary tracks, one with director Scott Spiegel & Producer Ted Nicolaou, and a second with writers Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler. Also featured are an Interview with Modesty Blaise creator Peter O'Donnell, a Making of Featurette and the film's trailer.
Conclusion: My Name Is Modesty actually seems to have been a fluke. It seems that Miramax was in danger of allowing their rights to the property expire if they didn't produce something relating to the Modesty Blaise character. Fulfilling their obligation with this low-budget prequel helped them to keep the rights, but also showed what a strong and viable franchise this could become in the future. I still stand by what I said in the beginning and can only imagine how popular and iconic these films could become if released under the Dimension Films name. Recommended.