Xena: Warrior Princess Season 1

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A spin-off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that went on to eclipse its predecessor, Xena: Warrior Princess became a pop culture phenomenon thanks to its tone and iconic title character. So here I am ready to review the first season of this show. Let’s get on with it and be warned, spoilers may be in this review.

In Ancient Greece, former warlord and Warrior Princess Xena( Lucy Lawless) is travelling and attempting to rectify her brutal past and atone for the suffering she caused so many. She’s beginning to renounce her title of Warrior Princess, but she’s spurred into action when she encounters villagers being attacked by rampaging men. Taking back her sword and power, she vows to do good with her skills as a fighter. One of the girls she saved, an aspiring bard named Gabrielle( Renée O’Connor ), is bored with her life and wants some adventure. She sees Xena as her ticket to the wide open world some form of fun. Xena, who is used to being alone allows Gabrielle to come along with her. although skeptical at first, the two become very close friends in the long run . On their travels they encounter all manner of action and adventure as they come up against warlords, God’s and many things from Xena’s past coming back to menace the warrior and tempt her back to the dark side.

What immediately strikes you about Xena is the tonal diversity of the episodes. They go from serious dramas to tongue in cheek comedy and almost everything in between. There’s something for everyone to enjoy here. It’s best not to take most of it seriously because of the often goofy sensibility that colours a few areas, though there are deep moments of emotion to behold on the other end of the spectrum. Especially in the case of Xena and her search for redemption after her former darkness. I will say that Xena: Warrior Princess is a show that can be a bit like Marmite for some because of how oddball it gets. But it hits the spot for me with its multitude of tones and well-executed ideas. One of the main things that I’m aware of with this show is the endless debate over the nature of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. They are very close and almost always together as friends would be. But many see something deeper to it and I can understand why some think of Xena and Gabrielle as a couple. The writers are canny enough to sly and ambiguously reference this in many instances with innuendo appearing a handful of times between the two and situations that put them closer together. There are only snippets of something more than friendship in this season, so it will be interesting to see how their relationship grows and how it will turn out.

On the visual side, the use of New Zealand as a filming location is inspired in how it stands in for Ancient Greece in all its beautiful splendour. And it’s pretty great how anachronistic the show is. It doesn’t purport to be the gospel truth about the mythology it references, instead running with it and having a blast. It plays by its own rules and is in my view, all the better for it. A rousing score that fits the shifting ups and downs of Xena’s life and can be so many things given the episode at play.

Great episodes abound in this introductory season. The opener cleverly sets up the title character as she begins her journey to some form of redemption while hinting at what will come. ‘Dreamworker’ has Xena entering a dreamscape to save Gabrielle from being sacrificed to the God Morpheus, which will happen if age spills innocent blood. Xena must contend sit her past here as it quite literally comes back to haunt her. It’s a very striking episode. In ‘Reckoning, we are introduced to the darkly charismatic Ares. He will, from what I’ve read, become a more prominent character in the series. I’m glad to hear that as he is very smooth and dark and the story of him trying to coax Xena back to the dark side is extremely watchable and Kevin Smith is ideally cast as the silver-tongued God. The episode in question does a great job of showing how Xena may be trying to right her wrongs but could easily go back to the dark side if swayed. In ‘Hooves and Harlots’ Xena and Gabrielle come into the middle of what could be a war between the resourceful Amazons and traitorous Centaurs. It is in this episode Gabrielle comes into her own a bit more and displays skills as a fighter that will come in handy. She may be the sidekick of the series, but we see that she’s no slouch either as evidenced by her willingness to learn.

‘Warrior … Princess’ is a fine comedy episode where Xena impersonates a damsel in distress that is far removed from her tough girl persona, leaving the other princess to attempt to emulate the fierceness of Xena. All of this has hilarious results for both and shows off the comedic chops of Lucy Lawless. Another standout ‘The Royal Couple of Thieves’ features Bruce Campbell as a thief with a big ego that teams up with Xena to retrieve a powerful object. The banter and chemistry between Xena and Autolycus is something to behold and makes the episode a particularly strong venture. On a more serious note, ‘Callisto’ introduces a vengeful nemesis for Xena who has dedicated her life to destroying her as it was Xena’s army that slaughtered her family. This episode makes an interesting case for Callisto being the dark side of Xena, like the other side of a coin. She embodies, thanks to the frightening and unnerving work of Hudson Leick, a psychotic evil that is taunting and won’t rest. The dynamic between them is fascinating as Callisto attempts to get Xena to kill her, putting the Warrior Princess in a dilemma over whether to kill what she has created  The episode also serves to introduce the comic character of Joxer( a very funny Ted Raimi), an incompetent wannabe warrior who is lovable nonetheless. And the season is closed out in emotional fashion when Gabrielle seemingly slips to the other side after being injured in the middle of a civil war. Watching as Xena screams and pounds her chest is heartbreaking, but thankfully Gabrielle is soon back with the land of the living and the two are soon on their way to new adventures. It’s a high point of the show that displays the close relationship of its protagonists.

The cast is a big selling point of Xena and one that makes you truly buy into it. At the centre is the sexy Lucy Lawless as the eponymous Warrior Princess. She projects a strong, intimidating but also sardonic and seductive image of a woman you wouldn’t want to mess with. Lawless has the athleticism and when the occasion calls for it emotion when discovering Xena’s pain and regrets that she has harnessed into a tough visage. Renée O’Connor has the innocence and pluckiness to counterbalance the seriousness and worldliness of Xena. And though she is often the main sidekick, O’Connor makes Gabrielle just as important as a character. Plus the chemistry between the two of them is exemplary. While best friends, Xena is the more hard-edged of the two. Gabrielle on the other hand has a thirst for knowledge and a desire to discover the world and all that it has to offer.

And now for my episode rankings:

  1. Sins of the Past – A
  2. Chariots of War – B
  3. Dreamworker – A
  4. Cradle of Hope – B-
  5. The Path Not Taken – C
  6. The Reckoning – A+
  7. The Titans – C-
  8. Prometheus – B
  9. Death in Chains – C+
  10. Hooves and Harlots – A
  11. The Black Wolf – B+
  12. Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts – C
  13. Athens City Academy of The Performing Bards – D-
  14. A Fistful of Dinars – B
  15. Warrior .. Princess – A+
  16. Mortal Beloved – B
  17. The Royal Couple of Thieves – A
  18. The Prodigal – C-
  19. Altared States – C
  20. Ties That Bind – B
  21. The Greater Good – B
  22. Callisto – A
  23. Death Mask – C
  24. Is There a Doctor in the House? – A

So so all I have left to say is that Xena Season 1 is a blast that has me gearing up for what follows. With a feisty and fierce leading character and entertainment galore, you can’t ask for more.

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The Shallows

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Director

Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring

  • Blake Lively as Nancy Adams

An energetic, nail-biting horror thriller, The Shallows is entertaining in many ways. Originality is checked at the door and we are vibes a fun and at times terrifying fight for survival between woman and beast. This is the first entry into my Month of Horror.

Nancy Adams is a medical student who has traveled to Mexico in the wake of her mother’s death. She goes to a beach she knows her mum loved in order to honour her memory and avoid dealing with her father, who it seems is distant from her. She takes to the surf and is relaxing in the sun. After encountering a dying whale, a monstrous Great White Shark attacks her. Nancy’s leg is injured, but she manages to clamber up onto some rocks. Being a medical student, she treats her wound the best she can as terror sets in. Being miles from land and knowing that the tide will soon wash her away and her safety, she has to embrace an inner toughness and fight back in order to live in the face of the shark. The question is, just how long can Nancy survive as the tide turns and the shark comes looming?

Building on a simple prestige of the lone female being menaced by something horrible, Jaume Collet-Serra ratchets up the tension from the start. He drip feeds smidgeons of foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen among the glorious cinematography. The Shallows deserves kudos for its visual appeal, especially in the lighting and scenery. The lush surf is rendered gorgeously as a paradise before the predator comes calling for food. Plus, the technique of showing us the time and connecting Nancy with others, in this case a videophone, leads to some wonderfully nifty shots. Added to this are frequent close-ups on her face that display her resilience and terror in the face of horror. Now The Shallows isn’t a perfect movie, some areas lag, but it isn’t trying to be the best movie out there. What it wants to do is scare and excite, which it does with ruthless efficiency. It’s a B-movie with a little bit of that something extra. And it has touches of humour in the form of a Seagull that gravitates to Nancy and earns the nickname, ‘Steven Seagull’. The score is excellent at slowly carving out scares and the perilous journey that Nancy attempts to go on in order to survive the shark that is menacing her.

One of the best things in The Shallows is Blake Lively. Getting to grips with the physicality of the part, she also displays courage, heart and fierce steel as she does battle with the shark. Lively is a beauty and often her acting gets overlooked, but she shows here that she’s definitely more than a pretty face. In the hands of someone else, the part could have been just eye candy, but that’s not the case with Lively. It’s a commendable piece of work because the film largely rests on her athletic shoulders. Luckily, she is up to the task of it.

A tense and thrilling survival horror with a fine lead performance and terror at almost every corner, The Shallows is a movie that truly entertains and scares in equal measure.

I’m Focusing

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Lately, my focus has been lacking and it’s become noticeable. Not just in blogging but in other things. That’s why I’m going to focus more with a timetable to help me get some order. I feel like I’ve been a bit absent from all of you and for that I do apologise. I’m going to be back with sense of order very soon. I also want to expand my horizons with other things as well and spend more time with family and friends. This doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you all. Hope you all understand.

Who Likes The Avengers?

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No not the superhero movie franchise, but the classic 60’s spy show that I’ve finally got around to seeing some of. This is in large part due to the television airing episodes again. I remember my Grandfather being very fond of the show and decided to view it. Well I love watching the suave John Steed, him of the bowler hat and umbrella, and his succession of female sidekicks battle nefarious villains. But what do you think?

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2

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Expanding on from Margaret Atwood’s novel and opening up the universe created in Season 1, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale provides immensely disturbing viewing for us. It’s gruelling but so hard to tear your eyes away from it. Caution, spoilers may well follow.

We pick up where Season 1 left off, with a pregnant Offred( Elisabeth Moss)being placed in a van and heading for an uncertain future. As it opens, she along with the other Handmaid’s who refused to stone one of their own, are taken to Fenway Park. They believe they will be hanged, but it’s a cruel act of manipulation by the powers that be. Thrown into gruelling torture by Aunt Lydia(Ann Dowd), it looks as if it’s more cruelty for all of them. More defiant than ever, Offred takes on the regime with attitude and stays it out in the hope that help will appear. Eventually, Offred is spared as Aunt Lydia discovers she is with child and exempt from punishment. With help from Nick( Max Minghella) , who is the father of her child, and the resistance, she manages to escape from her captivity. Shedding her Handmaid’s life and proclaiming herself as June, she has to contend with knowing that in order to properly escape she may have to leave the daughter she had taken from her.

June may attempt escape to the border, but it’s short lived and she is forced back into becoming the Handmaid Offred. Nick tries to help her but is sidelined by being “gifted” a wife named Eden(Sydney Sweeney). She’s a pious girl and seemingly a true believer for what Gilead stands for, but also sets up events in a tragic way. There Serena Joy(Yvonne Strahovski) is starting to scoff ever so slightly at the regime herself, but is very unpredictable in her attitudes towards Offred/June. Commander Fred( Joseph Fiennes) is his usual hypocritical self and putting on his show of self-righteousness for all to see. Meanwhile, Emily( Alexis Bledel), formerly Ofglen is in The Colonies for her disobedience. Here she must work day and night among contaminating waste with death always a shadow over her shoulder. She is joined by disturbed Janine(Madeline Brewer), who doesn’t quite understand the situation at hand after everything that’s been done to her. We also catch up with June’s husband Luke(O.T. Fagbenle) and best friend Moira(Samira Wiley), who escaped to Canada and are grappling with their own demons and survivor’s guilt. June may be broken along the way, but her desire to fight comes back gradually as she is once more asked to contend with surviving the regime and. Things take many turns as she approaches her due date.

The first season covered the novel, so with this sophomore effort, the producers and writers are going beyond the source material in different ways. And they pay off very well, though I’m sure many where unsure of whether it would pan out successfully. Certain parts from the novel that were absent from the debut season are present, but Season 2 is largely its own beast that takes the story in different directions. Thematically, Season 2 delves into guilt and the price of rebellion. June must contend with her actions having consequences on others and the devastation that fighting for what is just can bring. Duality features heavily, most prominently with June/Offred and the constant struggle of the two. It’s like a constant battle of which side will win out as the regime digs its claws into her and forces her to make a choice. Once more, the visuals are strongly composed and extremely evocative. Particularly striking are the oranges and burnt golds of The Colonies; a barren landscape almost in a permanent dusk where those who oppose Gilead are enslaved and made to work among toxic waste. It’s so cinematic and disturbing. Plus the ever-increasing close-ups provide the uncomfortable ferocity and horror of Gilead and how much of a toll it takes on the characters. Flashbacks detail the rise of Gilead and expand on the characters as they reflect on life before the takeover. June’s voice over may be limited a bit more this season, but whenever it’s there, it sure as hell does the job at capturing her inner feelings.

Just like the debut season, this second season is chock full of shocking moments. There are plenty that truly stick with you for their brutality, disturbing nature and power. The mock execution scene where the Handmaid’s are rounded up like cattle, have their mouths covered with muzzles and have nooses placed around their necks in what they believe to be their last moments is a stark and traumatising opening. Set to the sound of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’, it’s hard not to hold your breath. A ceremony where the Guardians of Gilead are awarded with wives who are a lot younger and basically children is chilling and totally horrifying.  One of the biggest moments of sadness and emotion is June being reunited with her daughter briefly, before she is ripped from her arms once more. It’s a gut punch to the system. And in another shocking moment, never have the repeated words “We’ve been sent good weather” been so devastating and alarmingly creepy. If anything, Season 2 ups the ante on violence and suffering. Many have criticised the increase in violence but I think The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t doing it for exploitation value, but for a cutting and harsh impact on the viewer. It’s an undoubtedly tough series to endure but it’s ultimately worth it.

Yet for all the hurt and anguish heaped upon us, hope is mixed in there in doses. The last shot hints at searing determination and immense changes to come for the characters and story. And boy did I dig it, though it will definitely divide many. My only little gripes are that some of the latter stages feel a tad rushed in the scheme of things and some things don’t go anywhere. But this is a tiny flaw in what is otherwise an arresting and disturbing series.

Elisabeth Moss is once more on powerful form; bringing out the sadness, rebellion, grief, guilt and survivor of June/Offred. The character is very much in two halves here and the strong Moss plays both of them wonderfully and with skill. There’s the fighter side of June that scoffs and will do anything to escape and then there’s Offred, the subservient vessel. Again Moss and her eyes are marvels at telegraphing varying emotions almost simultaneously. Yvonne Strahovski also continues to excellently convey the complex Serena Joy, who is by turns despicable bitch and perturbed woman realising her role in her own unhappiness. It’s a balancing act that she walks exquisitely. A slithering nastiness covers Joseph Fiennes and his interpretation of Commander Fred, who is not above abusing his power for his own benefit and spouts lies at every turn. He really becomes very vile and hateful this season and Fiennes is very adept at playing to that. Ann Dowd is once again a big standout, essaying the part of Aunt Lydia. While still brutal and very vicious, the chinks of humanity begin to come through and you see that she does have a care for the Handmaid’s, even if her treatment of them is abhorrent. Dowd is just so endlessly watchable in the role. Max Minghella is quietly conflicted as Nick, who must contend with his love for June and staying alive in the heat of the regime.

Alexis Bledel is seen a lot more than last season and capitalises on it with a stunning performance. Those blue eyes of hers are deployed in forms of rage, resistance and tragedy as we see the impact Gilead has had on her mind. She’s still a fighter at the end of the day and Bledel plays to that strength spectacularly. Madeline Brewer also returns as the haunted Janine; her wild eyes and strange mannerisms are all in order and successful. One of the season’s best weapons is the appearance of the youthful Sydney Sweeney. She plays the seemingly pious and brainwashed wife of Nick, whose naivety and sincerity is worrying but sets in motion different and irrevocable things. Sweeney is fascinating to watch as she registers that there is more to Eden than meets the eye. Although their capacities are reduced this season, both O.T. Fagbenle and Samira Wiley give great account of survivors guilt and the process of change. I just wished I saw a bit more of them. In cameo parts, Marisa Tomei as a punished Wife, John Carroll Lynch as a man persecuted for his sexuality and Cherry Jones as June’s fighting mother make their impacts felt. I must say the entire cast where at the top of their game here.

A searing, brutal and memorable series, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale is alarmingly addictive even when it’s unsettling the hell out of you. You just want to know what happens next in the twisted world it so strikingly presents to us.