Feels Good To Be Back

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I’m loving being back in the blogging game. More content is to come and I will do my hardest to catch up with everyone. Don’t worry, you’ll see me around.

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Happy Birthday Nicole Kidman

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Today Nicole Kidman is 52. She’s one of my favourite actresses as she gets so into character and is immensely versatile. A statuesque beauty with dazzling blue eyes and alabaster skin, she’s a compelling presence on screen. I just can’t help but love this goddess.

Nothing Like a Dame

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This review that follows will be a first for me on this site. It will be the first review of a documentary and what a great one to start with. It’s Nothing Like a Dame, which has us in the company of the great women of stage and screen.

In the English countryside, we meet with icons Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins. All of them Dames and acting greats. They are conversing and reminiscing at the country house of Plowright, that she owned with her late husband Laurence Olivier. And boy is it entertaining to see them all together and in fine form. With careers spanning decades, there is no shortage of conversation here. It’s such a simple idea of watching these four wonderful ladies reflecting on life and their careers, which are extremely eventful.

Director Roger Michell keeps things low key and lets the ladies do their thing. This in turn brings out wonderfully natural results as Michell doesn’t feel the need to be flashy to be seen as good. He knows that the strength of these four dames is all he needs for this compelling documentary. I seriously want to see this quartet in another movie together. It would be a complete riot and so enjoyable. You can feel their friendship and years of experience are strong and full of energy and wisdom. They are by turns funny, irreverent, classy and humorous, with plenty of time for deep reflection on life and family. Hearing them speak about family has a certain poignancy to it. You can see the humanity of their situations and even though they are famous, they are still very much down to Earth in the grand scope of things. They’ve all seen a lot and experienced a lot too and it definitly shows their resilience. And Maggie Smith is on point with her acerbic wit, that is matched by Judi Dench( just check out her reaction to a medical worker treating her like just another old biddy). The other ladies round out this luminous quartet with grace, honesty and good humour. No one is more important than the other, it’s a celebration of them all. Whether together or apart, I could watch these ladies do anything. The quartet is marvellous; serenely bouncing off one another with memories and wisecracks. You just have to bathe in their anecdotes that run the gamut from happy to sad. Many areas are bound to bring some feelings of tears, mainly the fact that Plowright’s vision is failing and she occasionally looses track of conversation. But she still remains as strong as an ox and dispenses kindly wisdom to all. As all the ladies say, age is just a number.

I wholeheartedly recommend this documentary to anyone who enjoys watching actors reflect and fans of these amazing women.

The Girl with All the Gifts

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A horror drama with ethical and provocative questions at its core, The Girl with All the Gifts finds new life in the zombie horror genre with fine acting, scares and a surprising intelligence.

Some time in the future, most of mankind has been overrun by a virulent fungal disease that turns the sufferer into a flesh craving zombie. These people are known as “hungries” by others. In a secret underground army base, a second generation of these creatures in the form of young children are taught. Unlike their savage relatives, these kids can think and learn, but also have a craving for flesh. Humans have a certain blocker gel that masks the smell of human flesh, but that is still no long term guarantee. The story mainly focuses on one such child known as Melanie( Sennia Nanua), who is immensely gifted, polite and eager to learn. The growling Sergeant Parks( Paddy Considine) keeps things running in a brusque way, while head scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell( Glenn Close)experiments on the zombie children in a search for a cure to the disease. Although most see the children as just mere monsters, teacher Helen Justineau( Gemma Arterton) treats them with respect and compassion which puts her in opposition with both. Just as Dr. Caldwell is making some breakthrough, the facility is attacked by hungries. In the confusion, Melanie, Justineau, Caldwell and Parks survive and head for what they hope will be safety. But as tensions mount and Melanie is fought over, it becomes clear that there is no easy answer to what’s going on. But is Melanie the salvation of destruction of mankind in the grand scheme of things? And just how long is she to be trusted as the world around her crumbles and slips into a worse state than it already is?

Colm McCarthy is a director who clearly wants to bring that something different to the zombie horror sub genre. And that he does with this film that is both eerily tense and reflective on thematic material. I like how things start out mysterious and gradually we begin to understand the horrifying vision of the future. And once it hits the half an hour mark, intensity reigns and the pace quickens considerably backing up the horror credentials. One can make successful parallels with 28 Days Later and with good reason, for both are exemplary entries into zombie horror with more on its mind than just action and blood. Not that there isn’t action or blood as is envisioned in kinetic style and blood soaked horror, like the standout sequence of the hungries attaching the facility with a ferocity akin to a war movie. These events sit nicely along with the deeper thematic value of the piece. Considering The Girl with All the Gifts wasn’t made with the biggest budget, it never shows as it’s a gorgeously and hauntingly visual film. This extends particularly to its version of London, one in which overgrown plant life has taken over like a vicious jungle of vines that will prove fatal to those who can’t survive. And lets just say there is plenty of meat to chew over( pardon the pun.) The battle between good and evil is blurred considerably and admirably. No one is clear cut bad or good, least of all the eponymous Girl who is a mixture of both. The Girl with All the Gifts asks us to feel sympathy for her but like most of the characters, keep a certain sense of worry about her true nature and whether it’s just a matter of fate that she becomes rabid. In fact, there’s a certain tragedy attached to Melanie. You witness that she wishes to be like everyone else but is cursed from it, Some might say some of it is typical zombie fare and while there are going to be some cliched moments in here( no one said it was flawless), but what the film accomplishes is something with more heart and smarts than your average flick in this genre. A shimmering and reverberating score should rightfully be praised. It hums and throbs with an alarming intensity and haunting aura.

As the titular Girl, Sennia Nanua is a revelation in her first main role. For such a young actress acting alongside more seasoned co-stars, Nanua shows no sign of nerves and turns in a layered performance that is at once sympathetic and menacing. And what a cast it is. Gemma Arterton, of pleasing, warm face and expressive eyes, beautifully portrays the teacher who treats her charges as if they were just average children. In her eyes, although they are dangerous, they still matter and it is a fine.y judged, emotional performance from Gemma Arterton. Glenn Close( a superb actress of the highest order) is once more on amazing form as the ruthlessly determined scientist who seems heartless but possesses some care within her. Close doesn’t make her a villain and although she’s questionable as a character, it’s that flawed nature that Close gets across so well. Paddy Considine is on hand for sarcastic, aggressive lines and action as the skilled soldier navigating a crew of at odds survivors through a hellish London.

A chilling, thrilling but also deep examination of moral dilemmas set against a world gone mad, The Girl with All the Gifts discovers inventive and astute ways to blend post-apocalyptic horror and sensitive drama about ethical and ambiguous questions on humanity, science and the complex link between good and evil.

What’s To Come

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Over the last year, my work on here has been sporadic. That’s because my focus has been elsewhere with personal things and sometimes a feeling of lethargy. But now I’ve taken stock of things and am going to be properly back. I know I’ve said this before, but this time I mean it. I’m back and wanting to review and converse. I promise to catch up with everyone’s blogs too.

Xena: Warrior Princess Season 3

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We are now up to the third season of Xena, which follows both a succesful Season 1 and a fine sophomore entry. Season 3 is where Xena: Warrior Princess goes in a more daring and adult direction, and I for one am thrilled. Real emotion and gruelling darkness follow, making it more mature than some may think the show is capable of. It’s standing as my favourite season so far for its impact and way it progresses the show. Be warned, spoilers may follow in my overview.

The legendary Xena( Lucy Lawless) is once more travelling around Ancient Greece and beyond with her trusted best friend Gabrielle(Renée O’Connor). Fighting for the side of good against the evils that stand in the way, the duo are a force to be reckoned with. Only this time, things will turn very personal and threaten to tear apart the bonds of friendship between them. It begins when they arrive in Britannia where Xena wants to have it out with her old nemesis Caesar. Gabrielle is entranced by someone claiming to be a holy man, but it turns out to be something darker. After a fiery encounter with the followers of the dark lord Dahak and the fact that she loses her blood innocence, Gabrielle is impregnated with the child of darkness. Soon after giving birth, all hell breaks loose and the strong bond that Xena and Gabrielle possess reaches breaking point. You genuinely worry about the outcome of all this darkness for the two of them. Though events bring them back together and approaching some reconciliation, just how much longer can their friendship really stand on solid ground after all they’ve been through? With characters returning and more emotional and disturbing stories, Season 3 is a journey into thrills and drama.

As I stated earlier, Season 3 is my favourite season of Xena: Warrior Princess so far. I think everything comes together very neatly and it’s why there is such a high percentage of episodes rated A or A+ below. You can tell that the creators where going for something different but still with that zing that made the show so popular. They weren’t afraid to do different things with the show and incorporate genuine feeling into the mix either. On the visual side, the scenery and camerawork continue to impress with their scope. And once more, the music has a certain epic charm ripe for this kind of adventure. It’s a mightily impressive season of a show that just keeps growing.

Anyway, onto my appraisals of standout episodes. ‘The Furies’ mixes humour and darkness well. A conniving Ares( Kevin Smith of the smooth voice and deadly charm offensive) has The Furies put a curse on Xena for not avenging the murder of her father, which opens up a massive can of worms. In the beginning, the madness Xena suffers is mainly unusual but with a funny twist( like Xena repeatedly referring to Gabrielle as Mavis). But as it continues, harshness and shock set in as she spins further towards losing control, while strangely being not altogether incoherent. It’s an interesting opener that’s for sure and displays two of the show’s finest assets; it’s off the wall goofiness and underlying seriousness. ‘Been There, Done That’ is another exemplary chapter which features the day repeating itself and Xena attempting to figure out how to break the cycle. Once more, humour and eventfulness go hand in hand as two feuding families seem to hold the key to unlocking how to stop Groundhog Day. Speaking of which, this episode is clearly another version of that story of a day on a loop and it has a lot of fun with it. Watching Xena get more frustrated with the repeating events is hilarious as are the various ways she attempts to stop the loop continuing. Really a very funny episode and hugely entertaining. Despite being the darkest season thus far, Season 3 of Xena: Warrior Princess has its share of good comedy too, exemplified by the early entries. And of mention is ‘The Quill is Mightier’. The spiteful and impudent Aphrodite( who has grown on me since her last appearance as Alexandra Tydings is stepping it up) enchants Gabrielle’s scrolls as payback for making Xena more popular than her. In turn, things that Gabrielle writes become true, but chaos ensues as it gets overly literal. Ares makes another appearance, entertainingly squabbling with Aphrodite as they are both accidentally made mortal. And for an episode that doesn’t have Xena in it a lot, “The Quill is Mightier “shows that Gabrielle can be just as interesting as the hero she rides with.

‘The Deliverer’ is when the show starts what is known to fans as the beginning of The Rift. Xena has been a show that has dabbled in darkness before, but here in Season 3, it’s the darkest it’s ever been and all the more fascinating for it. Starting with’ The Deliverer’, where Xena and Gabrielle head to Britannia to help Boadicea battle Xena’s old nemesis, Julius Caesar. Conflict becomes a big theme and not just the physical kind. We have Xena having to reconnect with who she betrayed in the past and Gabrielle becoming closer to a priest she helped save. It’s more what happens to Gabrielle that’s most important here. The priest speaks of the One God and how he will change the world, to which Gabrielle becomes fascinated. But it’s all a ruse that causes her to unintentionally lose her blood innocence after killing another, which in turn frees a dark God known as Dahak. Gabrielle has always been the person against killing so for this to come along and shatter it, it’s pretty momentous and tragic. You can feel the pain of her suffering, which is further cemented by her being levitated above flames( this will have a big impact later). Let’s say it packs an emotional wallop and further kicks off this dark story arc. The follow up in ‘Gabrielle’s Hope’ is just as effective. In it, we discover Gabrielle is pregnant by Dahak and gives birth in a matter of days to a baby girl, prophesied to be the bringer of darkness. Gabrielle believes that the baby( which she names Hope) will be good due to her own , but Xena is severely sceptical . Xena is proved right when the baby kills within hours of birth and attempts to kill the baby. Gabrielle won’t let this happen and runs, hiding the baby in a basket she sends down the river. She then lies to Xena by telling her that she had to kill Hope because she turned on her. It once more functions as something to divide the close friends and put a strain on their relationship. Again, the darkness is at the forefront in a way that is unlike most of Xena, but a very welcome one for me. Plus, The Rift is coming out in major full force, building slowly to something dark. A two parter entitled ‘The Debt’ is Xena at its most lavish and ambitious, once more weaving together timelines. We discover more about a woman who shaped Xena and The Debt she has to pay to the now deceased mentor. We travel to ancient Chin where Xena is saved from betrayal by Lao Ma, a wise woman who sees the good in her despite her sins. instructs Xena in the ways of love and forgiveness, while caring for the warrior woman and helping her to fight when needed. Back in the present, Xena is charged with killing the evil son of Lao Ma, but Gabrielle tries to stop her thinking she is doing  good and not letting Xena go back to her murderous wats. Ultimately, Gabrielle betrays Xena by informing those closest to the man she is about to kill what Xena is planning. The sting of betrayal further exemplifies the growing rift between them that is briefly healed, but you just know will return to bite soon in some way. I’m a sucker for episodes that go into Xena’s past and shows us how she was shaped into what she is in the present.  Overall it’s a gorgeously shot and exciting double header that digs into the past and has some of the most gorgeous imagery so far in the show.

Now it comes to two of the best episodes. In ‘Maternal Instincts’, Hope returns now with the appearance of an innocent girl. She brings back the terrifying and psychopathic Callisto( a memorable Hudson Leick), who persuades her to hurt Xena. Meanwhile, Xena and Gabrielle head to the Centaurs for a peace treaty and to see Xena’s son, Solan( who still isn’t aware of who his mother is). But this reunion is cut short, when Solan is killed by Hope and when Gabrielle realises this, she poisons her offspring which devastates her. Xena’s scream while cradling her son’s dead body is gut-wrenching as is the later funeral for both children which is the major part of the rift as the wedge is driven to near irrevocable between the two. Watching as they walk off in separate directions after this is tragic as their friendship is being nearly obliterated. It’s a highly emotional hour of television. Then of course we have the fantastic musical episode entitled ‘The Bitter Suite’ . After a vengeful Xena attempts to kill Gabrielle and the two take a tumble into the sea, they are transported to a strange world called Illusia. Here, musical numbers reveal their grievances and what feelings of hatred they aren’t dealing with. The musical sequences are excellently astute at bringing humour and dark atmosphere to the events playing out, plus it looks like the producers really went for it on the visual and sound front. From the off kilter feeling of Illusia, through a tango with Ares and ultimately a reconciliation between the girls, it’s an unforgettable episode. And the biggest message of the importance of friendship helps save the day as our heroines find some way to resolve the friendship that they once had. Thankfully, it looks as if the wounds are healing but it’ll be interesting to see if they ever truly get past this dark chapter( my bet and hope is that it does as I love their relationship and think it’s enduring). These two are some of the finest episodes so far in Xena and rightfully hold a high place in the hearts of fans and me. They challenge us as viewers as we watch a friendship nearly go up in smoke, but gradually get back on track for us all to rejoice in. And as if by magic, the following episode ‘One Against An Army’ cements just how much they care for each other by putting them in a major life or death situation as an army invades as Gabrielle lies injured. I think it’s here to reassure us of the close bond that was shattered but was never truly severed. It’s another poignant episode that grows in dramatic quality thanks to the acting. Also of note is the dark but rewarding ‘Forget Me Not’ where Gabrielle finally reconciled with feelings of guilt by going on a sinister trip down memory lane, guided by a prowling Ares. She can decide whether to live with her memories or erase them. Ultimately she decides to reconcile and this is the end to The Rift. And the two part finale is excellent and very surprising, but I’ll leave it to you to see what I mean.

In terms of acting, Season 3 is a high point, especially when it comes to Lucy Lawless and. Lawless excellently conveys both a fighter and someone who is all too human in Xena. The blend of toughness and vulnerability, coupled with undeniable sexual appeal and athletic swagger, is a match made in television heaven that keeps getting better. Gabrielle is put through the mill of emotions and trauma this seas. Renée O’Connor depicts how Gabrielle really starts to wise up more and develop a more harder edge to her personality. Her compassion is still there it’s just counteracted with a sense of weariness from all that has happened to her. Lawless and O’Connor still share a fine chemistry that charts the resentment and resolution of their clash excellently and believably as nothing can tear them apart. Once more, Kevin Smith is superb as the shifting Ares; who like a fox switches sides when he feels like it but does it with style. In the villain stakes as well is Hudson Leick as the oddly tragic but seriously twisted Callisto, who finally gets the release she’s craved since she began her path of vengeance. There’s a real presence whenever these two take to the screen. And with added comic relief coming from Joxer( played by one Ted Raimi, things only get better as throughout the season. Plus, the welcome appearance of Bruce Campbell is a bonus in many ways and I very much enjoy when he returns to Xena as the King of Thieves, Autolycus.

And now on to my episode ratings:

  1. The Furies – A
  2. Been There, Done That – A+
  3. The Dirty Half Dozen – B-
  4. The Deliverer – A+
  5. Gabrielle’s Hope – A
  6. The Debt Part 1 – A
  7. The Debt Part 2 – A
  8. The King of Assassins – C
  9. Warrior … Priestess … Tramp – B
  10. The Quill is Mightier – A
  11. Maternal Instincts – A+
  12. The Bitter Suite – A+
  13. One Against an Army – A
  14. Forgiven – C
  15. King Con – B
  16. When in Rome – C+
  17. Forget Me Not – A
  18. Fins, Femmes and Gems – B+
  19. Tsunami – C+
  20. Vanishing Act – A
  21. Sacrifice Part 1 – A+
  22. Sacrifice Part 2 – A+

My favourite Season so far, Season 3 of Xena has all you’d want from the show and more. Trust me, this is the show at its apex with everything operating at a high level.

RIP Doris Day

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I was saddened to hear of Doris Day’s passing at the age of 97. Blessed with a lovely singing voice, winning smile and wholesome appeal, she was seemingly destined to be a star. Off screen she was known for her animal welfare activism which was very close to her heart. Adept at romantic comedy and musicals, she showed her often underrated gift for drama in many a film. It’s a sad day as one of the greats has left us. But what a legacy she leaves behind.