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Monday, April 30, 2007

'Lady Magdalene's' is a fun movie that deserves audience [ Movies ]

Lady Magdalene's
Starring: Ethan Keogh, Nichelle Nichols, Alexander Wraith, Susan Smythe, Claudia Lynx, Mark Gilvary, and J. Neil Schulman
Director: J. Neil Schulman

Seven of Ten Tomatoes ( )

When Jack Goldwater (Keogh) of the IRS's criminal investigations division is assigned to manage a small brothel that's been seized for non-payment of taxes, he knows he's in for a difficult job; two other agents previously assigned to the task ended up resigning over it. However, he was still unprepared for what a handful the brothel's madam--Lady Magdalene (Nichols)--and her girls would be... and he never dreamed that he'd find himself in the position of unraveling an al-Qaeda terrorist plot.

"Lady Magdalene's" is a fun, fast-paced action comedy that's the latest movie I've seen this year that's still in search of a distributor. I hope it finds a home soon, because this is a movie that deserves a wide audience.

"Lady Magdalene's" is a film populated by likable characters placed within two major plot threads. One deals with Goldwater and the brothel, and the other with Yassin (Wraith) and the mysterious al-Qaeda plot he is forwarding with the help of American-bred operatives. They converge in the movie's third act. Structured like a movie from the 1940s and 1960s, the story features a couple of twists that make me wish Schulman was writing for big-budget films instead of his own low-budget productions; there are any number of big movies in recent years that would have been better served if they'd had scripts even half as clever as what we have here.

If writers of the modern thrillers could come up with twists and misdirections even a quarter as clever as Schulman does here, I wouldn't find myself wondering if the thriller is a dead genre. (I can't go into details without ruining part of the film, but there's a mystery aspect to the film's story that Schulman gives the viewers all the keys to solving, but which few are likely to guess until he does his Big Reveal as the film is building to its climax.)

"Lady Magdalene's" at its funniest when dealing with the terrorists, particularly the "terrorist summer camp" that Yassin has to get his agents from when he arrives in the United States on his mission from The Director (Gilvary). The al-Qaeda campfire song has got to be one of the most hilarious bits of satire ever put on film, and the use of the classical piece "Dance Macabre" as the "terrorist theme" in the film heightens the comedy surrounding them greatly.

Wraith, playing the only terrorist with brains in the movie, shows himself to be a very talented actor, managing to be the straight man to the morons at the "summer camp" and the al-Qaeda Director, and to swing between charming and chilling at other points in the film.

I've spent alot of time talking about the terrorist plot, and not much on where I think the filmmaker felt the movie's heart was--with Lady Magdalene's and the "girls" working there. Generally speaking, there's not much here that I haven't seen in other films. The idea of an al-Qaeda sleeper agent hiding out in a brothel is interesting, and the cartoon version of a whorehouse that the film presents is fun, but there's not much else here for me to comment on.

(ADDED LATER: An exception to "not much to comment on" can be found in the "Comments" section for this review. The producer/director of the flick called me on an embarrassing oversight.)

Despite my enjoyment of the film, "Lady Magdalene's" isn't without flaws. There are some scenes in the first act that could have done with some trimming, there are times when the dialogue is a little clunky, and there are others where the film's low budget is painfully evident in the sets. (Still, even when the dialogue is clunky, the scene advances the story. My most common complaint with low-budget productions is the abundence of padding and pointless, meandering scenes. I can't make that complaint here, and when I say some of the scenes in the first act need some trimming that's all I mean... just a few seconds here and there, and I think the scenes would have have been near-perfect.)

However, there are far more instances where the film is equal to counterparts with budgets ten times the size of what this movie was made for. Even at its weakest, the film is far better than most of the product in a similar budget and production-value range.

Despite the high quality of the film, I fear that Schulman faces an uphill battle when it comes to placing it with a distributor, because no attempt is made to make the film "politically correct" or do anything but call a spade a spade.

By simply portraying Federal law enforcement agencies and American politicians accurately (even to the point of getting details about the Internal Revenue Service's CID correct), he points out the flaws with the domestic "war on terror."

Similarly, Schulman's portrayal of terrorists as primarily moronic dupes or self-centered, hypocritical sociopaths who blame everyone but themselves for their own shortcomings is far closer to the truth that is acceptable to say in the current popular culture.

This is not to say that "Lady Magdalene's" is overtly political--in fact, I think Schulman takes steps to keep it neutral as far as that goes--but in an age where common sense and even basic facts seem to have been politicized, I'm sure there are those out there who will say that it is a political movie. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of politics that will go ever well with many in the film biz.

"Lady Magdalene's" is presently being submitted to film festivals throughout the United States. If it shows up at one you're attending, I encourage you to make every effort to check it out. You will find that your time was well-spent. (And I hope that the rest of us will be able to pick up the film on DVD, or perhaps even catch it on cable.)

2 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | 11:34 PM

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