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. 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. 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. 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.
Owing to lockdown I’ve been busying myself with other pursuits. Sadly, this has lead to me slacking on my blog. But fear not, I’ll be back in action soon and I’ve not forgotten you.
2000's, Action, Alexander Siddig, Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Paxton, Chris O'Donnell, Izabella Scorupco, Martin Campbell, Nicholas Lea, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, Steve Le Marquand, Thriller, Vertical Limit
A tense action thriller that’s not in any way groundbreaking or original, Vertical Limit gets by on immense adrenaline and a competent cast. It’s a B movie to be sure, but a very good one.
Peter(Chris O’Donnell) and Annie Garrett(Robin Tunney) are avid climbers who frequently engage in this hobby with their father. But one day while climbing Monument Valley, disaster strikes. Two falling amateur climbers cause the line holding the family to become precarious. The father instructs Peter to cut the rope to save his children, which Peter does and in turn his father falls to his death. The act saves Peter and Annie but does immense damage to their relationship. Three years later, Peter has given up climbing and turned his attentions to wildlife photography, while Annie has become a prominent celebrated climber. The two meet once more at the base of K2, which at its peak is the second largest following Everest. The relationship is still damaged between the two and though Peter wants Annie to speak to him again, she can’t bring herself too. She is there to take part in an expedition up the mountain with billionaire Elliott Vaughn(Bill Paxton). For Annie, it’s a chance to carry on her father’s love of climbing mountains, but for arrogant Vaughn, it’s all part of a publicity stunt. Joining them will be experienced climber and level headed guy Tom McLaren(Nicholas Lea), and two other climbers . The group is warned by mysterious climber and legend Montgomery Wick(Scott Glenn) that the weather isn’t forgiving and can turn in an instant, but no one pays much attention. Peter is also worried but can’t communicate with his stubborn sister. So the climb goes ahead, even though there is a chance that extreme weather could hit. Sure enough the elements are against Annie, Vaughn and Tom as Mother Nature hits with a vengeance, causing an avalanche. In the ensuing chaos following the deaths of the two others on the trip, Annie, Vaughn and Tom find themselves trapped in a crevasse that slowly seals, leaving them injured and nearly cut off from any form of rescue. Thankfully, Annie knows morse code as does Peter and manages to briefly contact each other, but it’s not as simple as just finding the place of rescue in a mountain thats unforgiving. The mountain is expansive and dangerous and the group slowly start to feel the effects of the cold and biting sting of dwindling supplies exasperated by the growing tension between the trio. Peter, despite the estrangement from his sister, plots a rescue that will be both daring and extremely harrowing if he wants to save his sister. He enlists the help of gorgeous touch cookie Monique(Izabella Scorupco)who wants a share of money for a new life being offered by the company, brothers and climbing enthusiasts Malcolm and Cyril (Ben Mendelsohn and Steve Le Marquand) and Kareem(Alexander Siddig), whose cousin was one of the ill-fated members of team that ventured up the mountain. The nomadic Wick joins them as he is an expert on the treacherous ascent, though we learn he has another agenda for going up K2. The group have canisters of nitroglycerine in their bags donated by the nearby Pakistan Army, which are incredibly dangerous but will hopefully if used correctly. The clock is on for Peter to rescue his sister and the team with not a second to lose.
Martin Campbell is no stranger to action thrillers having directed Bond flicks GoldenEye and Casino Royale. And his talents in these areas serve him well in Vertical Limit as he cranks up the action and suspense to high degrees. He isn’t going for some intellectual exercise and knows thats not what the audience is craving either. This understanding aids Vertical Limit as a film of action and spectacle for the popcorn crowd where you don’t really have to do a lot of thinking but you sure as hell enjoy it. Granted there are some quite moving moments that you might not expect in such a film, but it’s the sheer adrenaline and energy of the film as the clock ticks away that make it credible. The visuals are pretty on point; capturing the beauty and precariousness of mountains amidst the breaks from action. It’s truly a sight to behold these natural wonders that are enticing but also death-defying in the extreme. Vertical Limit may run on a bit long for my liking with two hours pushing it, but I enjoyed the vast majority of the movie. It piles on the scenes of near death and action in quick succession which actually benefits the film, even when it is fit to burst. James Newton Howard provides an action packed score, focusing mainly on strings and drums for added oomph in the perilous journey on the mountain.
Though the characters are essentially cliched and pretty overfamiliar, a credible cast fills them out nicely. Chris O’Donnell, while not being the most convincing actor there has ever been, is decent enough as the central hero of the piece. He’s passable as the rescuer with baggage and is credible in the action scenes it must be said. Robin Tunney brings out strength and vulnerability as the trapped sister; trying to make smart decisions as she succumbs to the impact of cold weather and being trapped. Tunney makes her character’s suffering and bubbling resolve feel at least genuine whenever she is on screen which goes a long way for me. Bill Paxton and Scott Glenn are however the standouts here as men with shared history and not all of it good. Paxton exudes an underhand sliminess and selfishness that makes you thoroughly despise the character and is a credit to his skill as an actor. Glenn, with a face that is bound to install fear and a little admiration, projects a gruff exterior as the mountain expert with his own personal reasons for scaling K2 and a particular axe to grind. Both actors are very good in their respective roles and I enjoyed seeing both men on either side of morality occasionally blur those lines. Nicholas Lea, taking a break from playing the underhand traitor on The X-Files, seems quite glad to be portraying someone who is actually good at heart but no pushover in the least, even when mortally injured. The beautiful Izabella Scorupco has the right blend of sex appeal and grit to make her quite memorable, while Ben Mendelsohn and Steve Le Marquand offer comic relief in between the nail biting action and terror, with both convincing as stoner brothers in need of that rush of adventure.Rounding things off is Alexander Siddig, whose quite and calming presence is a welcome respite among the chaotic happenings.
So while no Oscars or awards for genre defining content will be awarded to Vertical Limit, it’s action and suspense keep you invested and man if it isn’t a thrilling ride.
Inspired by the true life case of two maid sisters in 1930’s France who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter, Sister, My Sister makes for rather disturbing but intriguing viewing like a cross between a period study on class and a darkly historical crime drama. Headed by a fine quartet of performances, be prepared for both shock and horror as the story takes you to some uncomfortable places.
It’s 1932 in Le Mans, France and Léa Papin( Jodhi May) comes from a convent to work as a maid for stern and stuffy Madame Danzard( Julie Walters) and her slovenly daughter Isabelle(Sophie Thursfield). She has gotten the job on the recommendation of her older sister Christine( Joely Richardson), who has worked in the household for a while. The sisters haven’t seen each other in years and are glad to finally be together with the estranged other. Neither group of women speaks to the other, much in the way that a bourgeoisie household works where people know their place and don’t deviate from tradition. Christine and Léa share a room upstairs and a bed, their workload is such that their main day off is a Sunday until 4 o’clock. Out of the sisters, Christine is the dominant sibling with underlying fury, while Léa is ever so eager to please and green in a lot of matters.Though the sisters are close, we see after they visit their mother that we never see, but know favours over Christine and takes a cut of their wages, that their past is very troubled. Her mother’s actions infuriate the temperamental and controlling Christine, who feels the sting of her mother’s abandonment years before to a convent and her deep devotion to her sister. Despite a jealousy towards her younger sister, the cloistered environment in their room and isolation from outside gives way to feelings of love far beyond just sisterly affection. Madame Danzard is rather oblivious to the attraction going on under her nose and is more interested with how well they are as obedient maids for her and her daughter. Her daughter Isabelle is a lady of not much in the way of prospects due to her sullen demeanour and lack of effort in appearance, though Madame insists and brow eats her over searching for a husband to secure her future. With the unhealthy attachment burgeoning between the sisters upstairs, the maid duties carried out by them begins to slip and Madame Danzard, with her beady eyes and vicious tongue, makes it known that she isn’t happy with them. Madame’s initial delight at getting two maids for nearly the price of one melts away to reveal a picky, vindictive woman who goes out of her way to humiliate her servants. Tensions start to boil over as the relationship between the sisters intensifies and Madame becomes more petty and cruel. Finally after nearly a year of suspicion and mounting tensions, everything comes to a head with a savagely, violent act that shatters the house.
Skilled director Nancy Meckler crafts a very claustrophobic and insular atmosphere of repressed emotions and a feeling on inequality amidst the four women, busting taboos too on the topic of incest between sisters. Meckler clearly knows what she is doing because she hooks you from the opening frame with the prospect of mystery, horror and drama with psychological overtones permeating the relationships explored. Sister, My Sister is in effect a chamber piece as it really only features four characters and all are female. A male photographer is heard speaking yet never seen by the audience, making us pay special attention to the ladies at the heart of this twisted yet grimly fascinating film. Screenwriter Wendy Kesselman knows the power of shared silences and how they translate into the struggle of class within the doomed house. They also highlight how not communicating due to the roles that society has doled out to these women can give rise to resentment and much misunderstanding, in this case of a deadly and vicious kind. I don’t believe the film condones the actions of the Papin sisters, rather Sister, My Sister speculates on what may have lead them to this act and does so with intrigue. A little more detail on certain points in the story might have been beneficial, but the impact of this haunting film more than makes up for quibbles. The cloistered environment transports to the viewer as the film rarely leaves the confines of Madame’s home; further sealing the sisters away from reality and letting them retreat into the taboo world of incest. The bedroom scenes between Christine and Léa are unusual and bathed in a bright, almost angelic light, suggesting that their closeness is a result of repression from being in a convent and that they have found an uncomfortably codependent relationship that goes beyond what is right and wrong. Yet they can’t quite see that and have become that isolated that they are above it, making the bright light of the scenes both ironic(given the murders they commit) and starkly noticeable in a film that’s largely quite dark in terms of visual style. Many scenes don’t have music, the main sound being either a clock ticking away or a tap dripping, allowing when music does appear to have atmospheric impact following pronounced silences and uncomfortable pauses.
What really anchors this already interesting and darkly enticing film is the quartet of lead performances. Joely Richardson dominates as the dutiful yet stifled and resentful Christine. Richardson’s faces burns with alarming and disquieting hate that at first is subtle, then blows up in powerful and shocking ways. It’s a credit to Richardson that we are enthralled by this woman who is coiled and just about to snap emotionally owing to not being able to control love, not knowing when to stop and childhood scars that haven’t gone. Jodhi May matches her as the initially timid Léa, who’ll do anything to please but is so easily lead that she can’t help but feel a bit of rebellious streak in the presence of her sister. May has this feeling of innocence to her, with her youthful face and sympathetic eyes, that could just as quickly turn to despair and dangerous once pushed. Both actresses work spectacularly together, possessing a quivering desire, unspoken bond, shared paranoia and feelings that may come spilling out in unexpected ways if they aren’t careful. Julie Walters, who for me never disappoints, shows off her versatility in convincing portraying a petty, vicious and mean-spirited lady who likes everything just so and is clearly a product of her snooty upbringing. Walters covers the part with prim manners and even a bit of humour, but she gets to the heart of this woman who believes she’s above everyone and won’t tolerate insubordination of any kind. Sophie Thursfield is given probably the most underdeveloped role, yet injects what she can into it. She’s mainly required to be the punching bag for her cruel mother but also strangely close to such a horrible woman. The relationship between Christine and Léa may be disturbing , but the one between Madame Danzard and Isabelle is just as alarming in how unhealthy the heaps of abuse Madame throws on her daughter are, who is then bemused, followed by being a figure of loyalty like a servile dog.
A haunting movie of repression, jealousy and class struggles, Sister, My Sister will no doubt leave you reeling and disturbed by its content that is grimly rendered but very intriguing to watch.
1970's, Alec Guinness, Comedy, David Niven, Eileen Brennan, Elsa Lanchester, Estelle Winwood, James Coco, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, Murder by Death, Murder Mystery, Mystery, Nancy Walker, Neil Simon, Peter Falk, Peter Sellers, Richard Narita, Robert Moore, Truman Capote
A hilarious spoof of the murder mystery genre that lampoons nearly every cliche there is, Murder by Death benefits from a sensational ensemble cast and a real feeling of delightful mischief shot through its veins.
The eccentric millionaire Lionel Twain( Truman Capote) is hosting a weekend at his secluded house. Assembled are Chinese Inspector Sidney Wang( Peter Sellers) accompanied by his adopted son Willie(Richard Narita), who he always informs people is Japanese. High society detective duo and husband and wife Dick(David Niven) and Dora(Maggie Smith) Charleston are there, as is prancing Belgian detective Milo Perrier(James Coco)and his much abused chauffeur Marcel(James Cromwell). Also in attendance is hard boiled gumshoe Sam Diamond(Peter Falk) and his loyal but overlooked secretary Tess Skeffington( Eileen Brennan), followed lastly by jolly English sleuth Jessica Marbles(Elsa Lanchester)and her Nurse(Estelle Winwood), who ironically is in need of more care than her patient. After the guests have gathered and met dry-witted blind butler Bensonmum(Alec Guinness) and deaf-mute cook Yetta(Nancy Walker) , the events begin to take form. Twain believes he is the best on the subject of solving crimes and has gathered this group to pose a challenge. He informs his guests that at midnight a murder will occur. Whoever solves this crime will receive $1 million dollars, if no one does their reputations will be in tatters and Twain will have his vain satisfaction. To ensure no one leaves, Twain seals the house off Sure enough, a murder occurs and thinks get more complex as the hours continue. A discovery that the house has revolving rooms and that the servants are far from what they seem to be adds another layer of mystery. The worried yet mightily curious group resolve to get to the bottom of this. But the case proves to be very twisty for these detectives in their search for the answer, complete with a house that is most unusual and plenty of clues hanging in the air.
Murder by Death has Robert Moore in the directors seat and his direction is unobtrusive yet very satisfying, allowing the funny moments to really flow and be seen. Penned by the talented Neil Simon, Murder by Death hits the right spot of spoofing the mystery genre and having a ball in revelling in the many cliches that abound. The main group of characters are all fashioned after famous literary and cinematic detectives of whom humour is derived from spoofing their well known personalities. I had a ball seeing the similarities and allusions to the great detective characters of fiction infused with comedic overtones. The film is undoubtedly silly and yet that is partly the point and Simon definitely seems to enjoy this fact, while layering on red herrings and confounding suspense as to what is transpiring and what is truly real. The dialogue comes quick and fast, like delightful bullets of energy and tongue in cheek humour in the best way that Simon can. Plus you’ll be laughing so much at the film you can overlook parts that are dated and wouldn’t be acceptable now( most prominently the use of yellow face for Mr. Wang.) There’s an argument that the character is actually supposed to subvert the trope but it’s still problematic in my eyes and will no doubt be a bone of contention for many. Set design is in need of much praise; showing the big country house as akin to a funhouse with rooms that move on their own accord and things ready to jump out. The music score as provided by Dave Grusin has an unending sense of fun too it as if topping its musical hat in a jaunty manner that suits the film down to the ground.
A star-studded cast is the cherry on top of an already impressive cake. It’s a thrill when an ensemble cast is used and nearly everyone is given something to do. Front and centre, and giving one heck of a performance is Peter Falk. Channeling Humphrey Bogart, Falk plays the tough-talking, rough and tumble detective who says it like it is and doesn’t give a damn what you think. The part is injected with wise-cracking humour at which Peter Falk is mightily skilled at. If you can overlook the problematic yellow face make up sported by Peter Sellers , his performance is quite good and he comes out with some comic one liners of the highest order. As aforementioned some think his portrayal is in fact lampooning the ridiculous cliched nature of the character, but its still something that is up for the viewer to decide. Truman Capote, best known for his writing, is well employed as the mastermind behind the most unusual events going on. With his slightly sneering and camp mannerisms, he is certainly memorable as the instigator of mystery. David Niven and Maggie Smith play off each other wonderfully as the high society couple with exquisite, upper crust manners and dry, cynical humour. Both professionals are a joy in this film and I very much enjoyed whenever they were on screen as they are such a hoot. Eileen Brennan, of raspy voice and good comic yet sympathetic timing, is well cast as the downtrodden, overlooked secretary who clearly has the hots for Diamond but can never seem to catch a break with him, despite her many attempts to instigate something. James Coco has a ball as the arrogant, know it all who is vain beyond belief and argumentative to the last, while Alec Guinness contributes a deep vein of droll humour as the blind butler who might be more than he seems. Nancy Walker does what she can with a small role, she definitely gets a big laugh once murder is committed. Elsa Lanchester and Estelle Winwood are an inspired and ironic duo, with the former summoning up all her gusto and the latter slowly revealing a witty side, despite everyone thinking her character is simply senile. Keep an eye out for a very young James Cromwell as the put upon chauffeur of Perrier, he really shows comedic chops in this movie. Richard Narita is sadly left to flounder with not much in the way of a part, though he manages some moments of humour.
So if you’re in the mood for a good comedy spoof of the mystery genre, Murder by Death is a glorious and hilarious place to start because of its rapid fire wit and quality laden cast of great stars.
A bleak but hopeful film directed by maestro and having a certain prescience with the events of the world today, Children of Men is a futuristic thriller shot through with darkness and the possibility of salvation that’s powerful and thrilling movie making.
The year is 2027 and the world is in meltdown following disease, mass violence and the startling fact that it’s been 18 years since the last baby was born. The United Kingdom is now in the grips of a police state that persecutes asylum seekers by placing them in internment camps once they enter the country and the infertility has caused violent unpredictability in the people who occupy this grey, oppressive time. The world is on the brink of utter collapse as fighting, deceit and mistrust tears apart the fabric of society and rebels and government are pretty much in the same boat of not being entirely truthful or clear cut as they make out. Theo Faron(Clive Owen), a cynical, alcohol dependent bureaucrat with a bruised past, has no faith in this world since he lost his son to a flu pandemic. His only source of some happiness is good friend and ageing pot smoker Jasper(Michael Caine), whose affable natire is a source of brightness in a time of uncertainty and panic . Theo’s existence is shaken up when he’s contacted by his former love and activist Julian Taylor(Julianne Moore) for help with a mission that involves the militant group or ‘freedom fighters’ The Fishes. The two have history as it was the death of their son that tore them apart and some scars are still not able to be healed. She wants Theo to help her secure transit papers for a young refugee named Kee(Clare-Hope Ashitey). Julian offers money to Theo who reluctantly accepts this offer despite having long ago vowing never to return to any form of activism or help of another. Things become more volatile and the stakes are raised when Kee reveals that she’s heavily pregnant( the first person in 18 years to become so), which puts her in a truly precarious position. It also soon becomes clear that some of The Fishes, in particular the beguiling (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and angry, short-tempered (Charlie Hunnam) have less than altruistic motivations for taking an interest in Kee and if the government discovers the pregnancy, it could spell danger and near death. Aided by loyal former midwife Miriam(Pam Ferris), Theo and Kee escape and head towards The Human Project; a scientific group who some believe are just legendary but who may be able to help Kee and her baby, as well as possibly having the cure for infertility. It soon comes down to Theo, who genuinely begins to care for Kee and her baby , to help her carry the fate of humanity and get her to safety before anything more brutal can stand in their way.
Alfonso Cuarón is at the peak of his directing powers here, fashioning a startling thriller and drama of the last hope for humanity in a world that’s in essence dying. infuses the material with imagination and heart, while never shying away from the brutality of what happens society is in free fall. Co-scripting with other talented writers, Cuarón brings out themes redemption, faith and hope when it seems that the world has truly gone insane. And thankfully, these themes don’t fall into the overly preachy category, instead settling for genuine what if possibilities and how when there is something to live for, it can truly inspire even the most reluctant of us. Interestingly as well, the government is portrayed as corrupt but so are the alleged freedom fighters. This adds more to the danger of how skewered the world can be when there isn’t a clear cut, black and white situation at hand and once again feels rather prescient given the current world climate. Children of Men is probably most famous for its visual style and for very good reason. The long takes that Cuarón and talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use are simply exquisite in positioning us right at the centre of events, most prominently in a car scene that turns brutal and a climactic running battle that Theo and Kee find themselves in. Scenes like this and the technical wizardry and panache are why Cuarón and Lubezki make such a fantastic team; they obviously have a very fine understanding of each other’s styles and how to really craft something that looks highly innovative. I can’t wax lyrical enough about how Children of Men looks and how this plays into the overall feel of the movie which is rather prophetic of certain situations occurring right now in the world. A few parts lag but the vast overall impact of Children of Men more than makes you forget them and focus on the sheet excellence throughout . A well chosen soundtrack compliments the movie, as does pieces of heavenly voices that hint at redemption and some light in the darkness that are tempered by a certain ringing whenever something bad is about to happen.
Clive Owen takes centre stage in what is one of his best performances. He starts as a wounded man who doesn’t believe in sticking his neck out for anyone to reluctant protector regaining humanity. Owen owns the part of reluctant hero with his fair share of damage who genuinely goes through a journey in treacherous territory. Owen’s weary and cynical face speaks volumes in his silences, chipping away at a man with no hope who rediscovers his ability to fight and be someone of help when salvation seems at its lowest ebb. In short, Clive Owen is a compelling lead in both terms of action and emerging heart. Julianne Moore, in a short but excellent performance, functions as the propeller of narrative as she is the one who instigates the main undertaking. Considering she’s only on screen for a short duration, the always credible Moore brings gravitas, steel and a sense of lived invulnerability to the part in customary sublime fashion. The same can be said for Michael Caine who turns in memorable, scene stealing work as an ageing hippy who grows marijuana and provides Theo with some sort of family and love. It is Caine who provides some levity to the oppressiveness of things but also has enough subtle shading to also aid the gravity of the situation. Caine wisely underplays the part, never going over the top as a lively, funky old dude with wisdom and playing him with a careful balance of humour and seriousness. Like Moore, Caine isn’t onscreen for a long time but also like Moore, he makes his presence felt. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Charlie Hunnam are both very effective as respectively a ‘freedom fighter’ whose ideals are skewered beneath seeming kindness and a dreadlocked, trigger happy backup with a bad, surly attitude to most things. In the very important role of the first pregnant woman in 18 years, the young and very talented Clare-Hope Ashitey portrays vulnerability, feistiness and attitude ensuring her character is far from a victim even though everyone is either out to kill her or use her. Pam Ferris beautifully plays the former midwife who tries to remain grounded through spiritualism and has a calming, maternal effect on the characters and the viewers. Watch out for an eye catching turn by Peter Mullan; here playing a sadistically unbalanced guard who seems to help Theo and Kee but whose unpredictable nature and habit of speaking in the third person set your nerves on a knife edge.
Powerful movie making that delivers on the thriller good as well, Children of Men is an unforgettable movie with the sensational Alfonso Cuarón at the helm and boasting credible performances, stunning cinematography and intense but human thematic value.