On Friday, I received the news that my Grandma had passed away at the age of 87. She had suffered for a number of years with dementia. She was an amazing woman who I credit with shaping some of my cinematic tastes, along with my late Grandpa. I take comfort in knowing she is at peace now and no longer suffering. This is my tribute to a fantastic woman. I’m dealing with the grief now, but will be back to blogging soon.
After the startling finale of Season 4, Xena swings back into action with its fifth Season, that stands as my second favourite after the iconic Season 3. It’s epic, enjoyable and has almost everything you’d want from the show. Be warned, spoilers may well follow in this overview of the penultimate season.
We pick up as Xena( Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle( Renée O’Connor) are ascending into heaven following their brutal crucifixion. Following a battle between demons and angels, the two are restored to life by healer Eli . Joxer( Ted Raimi) once more joins them and finally tells Gabrielle his true feelings, which leads to a certain awkwardness between them but once more eases to friendship again. At first, following resurrection, Xena is not herself at all. The memories of being a warlord and her skill in battle are gone. Luckily, once creating a new and improved Chakram that links almost telepathically to her, Xena is back to herself again. Many changes, however, await her back in the land of the living. Chief among these is the fact that she discovers she is pregnant but hasn’t been with anyone in an intimate capacity. Xena still fights when the occasion arises, yet Gabrielle, who herself has honed her fighting skills and ditched the way of peace, is the one who takes up arms more readily this time around. We also have Ares(Kevin Smith) on the prowl, trying to get Xena on side by attempting to sway Gabrielle and those around her. This locks them all in a battle of wills as Ares is a difficult guy to resist, though for once he does seem to be quite genuine in his feelings for Xena. Once Xena gives birth to a daughter named Eve, all matter of evil seems fixated on it. This is because of the prophecy regarding ‘The Twilight of the Gods’; a time when humans will grow tired of Gods and will rise up causing those who have supernatural power to lose such abilities. It happens to Zeus, which angers other Gods who will stop at nothing to rid the earth of this child and sets in motion the aforementioned Twilight. Although Xena attempts to protect Eve, she knows that the God’s won’t give up in their search. With help from allies, she, Gabrielle and trick the God’s into believing they are dead, while Eve is placed in safety. What they hadn’t counted on was Ares really believing them and thinking he has lost Xens, he freezes their bodies. Awakening 25 years later, the duo find things have changed. Joxer is now near elderly and even has a skilled fighter son named Virgil(William Gregory Lee), plus the terror Rome has been through Greece. To Xena’s shock, her daughter has grown up to be a vicious warrior who goes by the name of Livia( Adrienne Wilkinson), and kills indiscriminately like Xena in her brutal past. The big question is can Xena and Gabrielle help reform Livia back into Eve before it’s too late and any more devastation can hit?
At this point in the series, I think producers knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it with a lot of confidence. Not that they didn’t know what they were doing before, I simply mean that obviously after a few years working on a show the formula is definitely set up and ready to fire on all cylinders. And once more we are given excitement, adventure along with depth, humour and character, which can’t be faulted and display the creative efforts of many at some of their finest. These are all things fans know and love the show for and in its penultimate series, it supplies them with this assortment of qualities. The music from the very talented Joseph LoDuca is again a high point . Although for the first half Xena doesn’t fight as much as usual(owing to the character’s pregnancy and the fact that Lucy Lawless was pregnant in real life too), it helps establish how much Gabrielle has learned throughout her travels and aids episodes that are Xena-lite. It compliments both, though it’s a kick to see Xena get back to fighting once more following the birth of her daughter. Season 5 is not flawless but the vast majority of it makes it a favourite of mine along with the aforementioned third season. Like that season, this one just has so much good in it that it’s essential viewing for quality and the atmosphere. The only real flaw is the role of Amarice, a scrappy Amazon who is actually lying that was seen late last season. She travels with the group but I just feel like she’s pretty superfluous to the stories and not really that interesting. Jennifer Sky does her best, but the character is rather forgettable. And some episodes in the middle area feel a bit like filler but are at least redeemed by the main bulk of successful episodes that showcase Xena at some of its most fun and darkly epic.
We open with the sensational “Fallen Angel”, which gets Season 5 off to a flying start. As Xena and Gabrielle arrive in heaven, a battle between angels and demons headed by Callisto. Gabrielle is pulled to hell, while Xena ascends. Soon the switching of roles and possibility of redemption and resurrection appears. The settings of heaven and hell are excellent as are the scores of angels, some very skilled in fighting and the vicious demons with their bloodthirsty intent engaging in intense battles. The episode looks fantastic with the sets for heaven and hell really standing out and backing up the themes at work. Xena transfers her light to Callisto( Hudson Leick signing off in emotional style) in order to save Gabrielle, making Callisto a newly born angel and restoring the good that would have been there if they’d never crossed paths. Its a sublime opening episode that contains action, heart and imagination which are all touchstones of the show. We finish with healer Eli, with the unbeknownst to him help from reformed Callisto, bringing Xena and Gabrielle back to life. Guilt, redemption and vengeance are the starting blocks and go to themes that are always explored well, and they help kick this season off with a bang and a promise of what’s more to come. Another zinger comes courtesy of tongue in cheek “Animal Attraction” with its anachronistic western references and the various facets of love playing out. In it, Xena journeys to help an old friend locked in a battle with her sheriff like ex. Funniest is Xena stopping bickering by announcing her pregnancy, much to the surprise of everyone. The spirit of the villainous Alti returns in ‘Them Bones, Them Bones’. Here she is attempting to corrupt Xena’s unborn child snd bring it into the darkness. With trippy angles and striking imagery of bloodstreams, animals, and lights, it’s a visual feast. Plus. there’s nice tipping of the hat to Jason and the Argonauts, with Xena and Alti’s spirits doing battle as reanimated statues. to I am a sucker for stuff like this and a returning Alti is once more a compelling villain who is devious and a worthy adversary for Xena.
A big emotional and important episode is found in ‘Seeds of Faith’ .Peace preaching Eli tries to rally the people into waging a war of love against the Gods. Ares doesn’t take kindly to this and Eli dies a martyr at the hands of Ares, prompting consternation between everyone of whether his death meant anything or not. Watching the various reactions to his death is fascinating as everyone is wrestling with different paths of life and which way is correct, sublimely realised and displayed. As an audience, we do finally hear of the impending ‘Twilight of the Gods’ which enlivens events and sets the stage for much more drama. And crucially we finally learn how Xena’s pregnancy came into motion with the now reformed Callisto explaining that she is to be reincarnated and that she chose Xena to be the one who carries her spirit. It’s her way of giving something back to her old nemesis and at this point both women are even and have achieved redemption and atonement for their actions against the other. It is emotional and thrilling to watch. A big standout of an episode in a season thats by and large stacked with quality. Then we have “Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire”, a lively musical episode that stands out and isn’t a carbon copy of ‘The Bitter Suite’ in Season 3. We find Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer out to stop a war brewing over who gets possession of an incredibly powerful lyre. To quell any fighting or further violence, Xena organises a battle of the bands to see who’ll claim it. The addition of modern songs in an old setting is rather inspired and the anachronistic instances are a real hoot. There’s also the sensational and scintillating “Amphipolis Under Siege”, which is one of my favourite episodes so far. It blends drama, crafty action and twisty turns that make it a special treat. In it, the goddess of war Athena( played very well and with an unnerving poise by Paris Jefferson ). It must be said that Athena isn’t completely without heart, she respects Xena yet knows that in order to preserve the Gods she must carry out a heinous act. Anyhow, she mounts a siege around Xena’s hometown, the villagers however are rallied to protect Baby Eve. Twists and turns abound as Xena goes into battle against Athena, with each showing just how skilful they are in the art of manipulation. Ares thinks he has Xena onside but he’s ultimately used by Xena and Gabrielle, much to his chagrin developed what seems to be genuine feelings for the warrior. I particularly enjoyed seeing how well Xena and Gabrielle played everyone to perfection to protect Eve. The battles are exceptional choreographed and exciting( as is Xena running from flames in an inspired shot)and the personal drama of Xena, plus backup, doing anything for Eve is very involving. Plus, you have to watch carefully to see if you’ve uncovered the subterfuge used which is always quite fun in my book and it’s sneakily done. In short, a fantastic episode that’s fast moving yet still makes time for story, in the show and how on my favourites list. Then there is a sensational run of episodes that are simply dazzling and surprising, chief among these ‘Looking Death in the Eye” “Eve” and “Motherhood” . In ‘Looking Death in the Eye’, a visibly aged Joxer narrates the last adventure of Xena and Gabrielle, before their ‘deaths’. This framing device is suitably intriguing and leads to many twists as the dynamic duo fool the God’s but find themselves inadvertently setting in motion something even more startling. We discover events little by little in a fantastically staged episode that really sets the scene for what’s to come and throws up some cool surprises for the viewer. In ‘Eve’, Xena is in pursuit of her daughter after revealing her identity to her. It’s interesting to watch as it’s a flip of the situation with Hope and Gabrielle claiming she was just an innocent child, the only difference being it is now Xena in the hot seat having to contend with knowledge that her child has grown up to be a murderer. What really shocks is the slaying of Joxer by Livia/Eve’s hands, which genuinely shocks as he does diein bravery thought obviously weakened by age. And who can forget the finale of ‘Motherhood!‘, truly extraordinary and exhilarating viewing as the Twilight begins and Xena takes on the almighty Gods of Olympus.
Our main cast is once more on sensational form having truly grown and shaped their roles, it’s hard to picture any of them being played by anyone better. Lucy Lawless, of intense, blue eyes and oodles of appeal is on hand as the eponymous warrior atoning for her past crimes. She also has the strength and protective love of the character as she becomes a mother who can also kick ass when it’s needed. Xena is a woman of many facets, from tough, sarcastic fighter to smart, emotional woman who is flawed but likeable. You can’t ask for anyone better at getting across all these different angles to Xena than Lucy Lawless. She is Xena, it’s as simple as that. The same can be said of Renée O’Connor, who has charted the journey of Gabrielle from tag along to powerhouse assailant with a heart. Renée O’Connor clearly relishes getting to show more physicality than ever in the part yet keeping hold of a decent enough worldview. She’s more steely and ready to do what needs to be done with a dash of cynicism, while not completely forgetting her depth and understanding. Lawless and O’Connor once more bounce off each other with great ease and conviction. Although his character is often divisive among the show’s fandom, Joxer makes his mark again for the last time courtesy of Ted Raimi. He gives the character both humour and immense depth that we really feel sad when he meets his end. Despite arriving late in the season, Adrienne Wilkinson makes an impact. Playing Livia/Eve, she is handed the difficult task of essentially playing two disparate characters in a short period of time. Thankfully, she rises to the occasion and displays both a vicious cunning and a redemptive desire in her run of episodes, balancing between both personas wonderfully. Kevin Smith does some of his finest work here, shading Ares with a deep brooding and what seems like a genuine love for Xena. It’s nice seeing that he actually appears to care, rather than just the bravado he puts across as the God of War. William Gregory Lee portrays the son of Joxer as someone more skilled than their father but with a similar temperament and humour to match fighting skills. I’m interested to see the development of the newer characters on here, particularly Eve.
Below are my episode rankings:
- Fallen Angel – A+
- Chakram -B+
- Succession – B-
- Animal Attraction – A
- Them Bones, Them Bones -A
- Purity – B
- Back in the Bottle – C
- Little Problems – D-
- Seeds of Faith – A+
- Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire – A
- Punch Lines – B
- God Fearing Child – B+
- Eternal Bonds – B+
- Amphipolis Under Siege – A+
- Married with Fishsticks – D-
- Lifeblood – B
- Kindred Spirits – B
- Antony and Cleopatra – A
- Looking Death in the Eye – A+
- Livia – A
- Eve – A+
- Motherhood – A+
Season 5 is a sensational penultimate season of Xena that boasts some of the best the show has to offer, I’m mightily satisfied and looking forward to the last season that awaits me.
2000's, Adventure, Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Fantasy, Ian McKellen, Jason Flemyng, Mark Heap, Mark Strong, Matthew Vaughn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole, Ricky Gervais, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Stardust
Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, Stardust is a lavish fantasy of tongue in cheek humour, surprising darkness and a feeling of adventure that can’t be denied. Boasting a game cast and some dazzling scenery/visuals, it’s hard not to be swept up in this movie.
A rural England town known as Wall is bordered by a giant wall that divides it from the magical kingdom of Stormhold. No one is supposed to go through the portal in the wall and it’s guarded by a man who refuses entry, though one man did and met a beautiful woman who he had a passionate romance with. Nine months later, his son is brought to his doorstep with no sign of the mother. The boy grows up into Tristan Thorn(Charlie Cox), a good-hearted but clumsy man who has a big crush on local beauty Victoria( Sienna Miller). The problem is his love for her is unrequited and Victoria is a selfish and vain woman who enjoys stringing others along. Tristan remains undaunted in his attempts to woo her and this is where things get interesting. In the Kingdom of Stormhold, the old King( Peter O’Toole) is dying and he hasn’t appointed a successor out of his sons. Usually, it’s the last man standing who takes the crown but the King decides to freshen things up a bit. He decrees that the first of his three remaining sons who retrieves his ruby will be crowned. The King throws it into the sky where it hits a falling star. The star is seen by Tristan and Victoria, and the capricious Victoria asks Tristan to retrieve the star to prove his devotion before a deadline. If he succeeds in retrieving the star, Victoria will accept his hand in marriage. Bowled over by her, Tristan naturally accepts the challenge. Little does Tristan realise how far reaching and eventful his quest will be. The biggest surpise is once he passes The Wall, he discovers that the star has taken the form of Yvaine( Claire Danes). She might be a radiant beauty but her personality is feisty and she immediately clashes with Tristan. Both begin to warm up to the other as forces of greed and desperation chase them. The remaining and power hungry princes Septimus( Mark Strong), Tertius( Mark Heap) and Primus( Jason Flemyng)are in hot pursuit, followed by an amusing Greek chorus of deceased siblings. Most evil and menacing of all are witch Lamia(Michelle Pfeiffer) and her siblings, who are fixated on gaining eternal youth of which the star can provide. Lamia in particular is a ruthless being of great power and cunning, who is not to be tricked with once she sets her sights on something. Tristan is thrust into a dangerous adventure to save and get back to The Wall before Victoria’s deadline. But in between dodging death and mischief, Tristan starts to see that maybe Victoria isn’t the girl for him as he develops feelings for Yvaine along the way.
Matthew Vaughn is on hand for entertaining and dazzling direction, with oodles of style and adventure. He’s a director who knows how to keep a story spinning and very exciting, most evidenced once the breathtaking fantasy elements begin. The script is very successful at placing us in the fantasy adventure of the piece while retaining a certain sense of off the wall sheen. Stardust boats a sense of infectious craziness and off kilter magic that marks it out as something different in the fantasy genre. For while it’s very amusing and playfully silly, these are balanced with some rather creepy and sinister moments that are not quite what you expect but add to the overall appeal of Stardust. It is for my money, a film that will appeal across the generations of viewers that see it. With its humour, romance, darkness and thrills, it’s a true delight of a film that transports you into a zany world for two hours. Oh the humour scale, there are a lot of knowing winks to the audience and some fairly naughty jokes that grown ups watching can appreciate. The locations are breathtaking with mountains, hills and that romantic feeling of a hero’s journey on full display for the viewer. The magic is rendered with fun and panache in the effects department, ensuring a film that’s lovely to look and have a good time with. The only flaw I can find is that there is often so much going on that you can lose focus on the events happening. I mean I like when there are various parts to a story, but there are moments when Stardust overdoes it a bit. I’m grateful however that this is the only niggle I have because the rest of this fantasy make up for it. When the three stories gel, Stardust really hits great heights of intrigue and fantastical fun. The score from Ilan Eshkeri matches the heart, romance and adventure of the film and is pretty beautiful/magical in parts too. And Take That provide the irresistibly catchy “Rule the World” to Stardust, which is hard to get out of your head once your eyes have heard it.
A sensational cast is on hand and all up for a fantastic time. In the lead, Charlie Cox is ideally suited for the main hero thrust into the biggest adventure his life has experienced. Cox is fresh faced, personable and full of charm which goes a long way in playing the hero of our narrative and endearing him to us. Claire Danes has an ethereal glow that aids her in playing the personified star Yvaine, while infusing her with a temperamental personality that softens beautifully once her and Tristan get to know each other . Yvaine be the character everyone is after but she is dar from a simpering victim which is fully embodied by a radiant and bristling Danes. The pair have a very entertaining chemistry that sizzles and enthrals. Standing out and having an obvious ball is Michelle Pfeiffer, who longtime readers know is one of my favourite actresses. She’s relishing playing the lead witch hellbent on getting her youth back and doing it in despicably, delicious fashion. Pfeiffer hits the evil and seductive notes wonderfully, while embracing an eye rolling layer of comedy. It’s a great performance from Michelle Pfeiffer who proves to be a dastardly adversary for our hero but one who’s having a full on blast and savouring this opportunity to play bad to the bone. Robert De Niro has some great comic moments as a space pirate, which finds him playing against his usual image of macho and forceful tough guy. Jason Flemyng and Mark Heap are two of the greedy brothers after the star, though it’s the reliable Mark Strong, on sneering form, who stands out the most as the ruthless brother desperate to be king. I’m not the biggest fan of Ricky Gervais but he’s passable enough as a wheeler dealer. Sienna Miller is effective in her small role as the girl who knows the power of her looks and how to use them to her advantage, which inevitable sets the story in focus. Peter O’Toole contributes an entertaining cameo as the king who sets in motion the quest everyone ends up on before he dies. And on narration duties is Ian McKellen, whose iconic and distinctive voice is richly used.
So while it is occasionally overstuffed with too many ideas and story, Stardust remains a delightfully different fantasy film with quite a bit going for it.