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Review: Spartacus: Season Two




Spartacus: Season Two

Like the character himself, a slave who rose up to defy an entire nation, Spartacus has a lot going against it. Perhaps out of fear that it might be mistaken for the schlocky Grecian television shows of yore (Hercules and Xena), Starz trumpeted this show as 300 with a dash of Gladiator. And while visually (and viscerally) that isn’t off the mark, the advertisements might have initially turned off all but the most orgiastic of viewers; who would have thought to take all those perky, blood-soaked breasts and raging cocks so seriously? In other words, Spartacus has been underestimated from the start, and while you don’t need to have seen the first season, it’ll certainly help you to appreciate the layers of scheming that creator Steven S. DeKnight has put into it. If we learned anything from last season, it’s that while battles in the arena are bloody, the politics behind them are equally if not more so.

Since Spartacus is based, albeit loosely, on actual history, it won’t be much of a spoiler to reveal that season two, tersely and accurately titled “Vengeance,” picks up only a short while after last season’s finale, with Spartacus and his fellow fugitive gladiators eking out a living in Capua’s sewers and countryside. Although Liam McIntyre has stepped into the title role (after the unfortunate death of actor Andy Whitfield), the show doesn’t skip a beat (given the show’s momentum, it’s likelier to cram a second beat in than it is to miss one), and the opening sequence, in which Spartacus’s not-so-merry-men savage a few soldiers who’ve been hired to hunt them down, immediately raises the bar. Spartacus carves a message into one corpse’s entrails, an act that speaks to the show’s bloody and intelligent pedigree, as he knows this defacement will draw his mortal enemy, Gaius Glaber (Craig Paker), back to Capua. But if this sounds too chess-like for a more action-minded viewer, it’s at least of the speedy variety: By the end of the first episode, not only has Glaber been pulled away from his senatorial aspirations by the father of his wife, Illithyia (Viva Blanca), not only have the two set up house in the ruined house of Battiatus (home to last season’s final massacre), and not only have these two have found a survivor (Illithyia’s frenemy and fellow schemer Lucretia, played by Lucy Lawless, stabbed through her womb during the revolt), but they’ve already been attacked in the agora by Spartacus and his volatile, tightly wound ally, Crixus (Manu Bennett).

Although the season begins back where it all started, and where last year’s prequel, “Gods of the Arena,” took place, DeKnight takes full advantage of our heroes’ liberation to show us even seedier locations than before. The second episode, “A Place in this World,” follows the disgraced doctore (trainer) of the fallen House of Battiatus, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), as he attempts to gain a fighter’s death in the Pits. Along the way, director Jesse Warn wrings parallels out of Brent Fletcher’s script by making sharp and brutal cuts between Oenomaus’s struggles to find honor and those of Spartacus, who’s attempting to hold his fractious freedom fighters together. Likewise, the episode makes good use of flashbacks, reminding us not only of the depth these characters possess (which only makes us mourn their inevitable deaths even more), but also of the ways in which we’re shaped by our past choices and mistakes.

By the third and fourth episode, we’re comparing the claustrophobic conditions of the mines, where Spartacus is attempting to free Crixus’s lover, Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), to the tortuous passageways of the human heart, as Glaber’s wife, Illithyia, plots to divorce him for a man with better prospects (and smoother fingers), Varinius (Brett Tucker). You wouldn’t expect to find contrast between the gray and dusky forests around Capua and the ashen prisons beneath Battiatus’s home, and yet a cage is ultimately wherever you choose to build it, be it through the bars built by the suggestive tongue of the wicked master-traitor Ashur (Nick Tarabay), once more plotting for his life, or in the actual bondage of chains and whips.

Yes, there’s sex aplenty (to put it mildly), but Spartacus isn’t gratuitous; the orgies show the worst of our excesses, not the best, and all of the major parties in both the first and second season have led to massive bloodshed. Nothing attests to the grim relation between pleasure and pain than a moment toward the end of the fourth episode in which a captured member of Spartacus’s troupe is tortured (for sport) by partygoers with whom Glaber is attempting to save face. When he’s finally killed, it isn’t even to teach him a lesson: It’s so that Illythia can prove to her prospective mate, Varinius, that she’s a strong woman who’s unafraid to dirty her hands. But that’s the glory of Spartacus: Nothing is ever just one thing, and passions always lead to ruin.

There’s more, so much more, but to be more specific would ruin the surprises that lurk in every episode: It’s enough to point out that Katrina Law is doing fine work as Mira, Spartacus’s tough-as-nails new love, as is newcomer Pana Hema Taylor, who plays one of the newly liberated house slaves, Nasir, but who makes his own choice to take up both as a warrior and as the lover of Agron (Daniel Feuerrigel). In this way, Spartacus shows that it’s able to continue the threads of the past while building new paths toward the future, and it’s exciting to be caught up in a show that’s unafraid of the chaos this ultimately causes in the present. Well written and acted, almost perfectly paced, and entirely unlike anything else on television, Spartacus isn’t just bloody good, it’s bloody excellent.

Cast: Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Manu Bennett, Craig Parker, Viva Blanca, Peter Mensah, Dustin Clare, Katrina Law Airtime: Starz, Fridays @ 10 p.m. Buy: Amazon



Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!



Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Review: What We Do in the Shadows Struggles to Carve Out Its Own Identity

The series struggles to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the original film.




What We Do in the Shadows
Photo: Byron Cohen/FX

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows seems like a natural fit for episodic television. The film was somewhat episodic itself, less an ongoing story than loosely arranged chapters of modern vampire life: going out on the town, having virgins over for dinner, dealing with the cops when there are bodies in the basement. For their FX adaptation, Clement and Waititi mostly succeed in translating the film’s comedy into half-hour chunks, albeit sometimes to a fault, as frequent echoes of the film leave the series feeling like it’s still in search of its own identity.

Both the characters and the New York setting of the series are new here, but the setup is the same, with a documentary crew filming the lives of a group of vampire roommates. All of the vampires are hopelessly behind the times, their shared house a dimly lit den adorned with antique furniture, old-timey portraits, and clothing that’s centuries out of fashion. Though the vampires still maintain the otherworldly allure that guides mortals to their demise, vampirism’s sheer flamboyance hardly meshes with the most banal facets of the present day: The local supermarket doesn’t take ancient coins, and one junior member of the Staten Island Borough Council can’t quite hack it as a vampire’s doom-saying herald.

It’s familiar material to be sure, but going back to the film’s bloody well still yields plenty of goofy, memorable personas. Matt Berry’s commanding presence as Laszlo sells the vampire’s oblivious pomposity when he insists on wearing a cursed hat or says something like, “You are a credit to the women’s suffragette movement.” Human servant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) carries out his grim work with an excitable verve, insisting, “I’m not a killer. I find people who are easy to kill.” At its worst, though, that same familiarity leaves some scenes feeling like they were lifted from the film’s outtakes reel. Certain traits of the film’s characters seem to have been divided among Laszlo, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Guillermo, which can lead to the actors seeming to outright channel Waititi and Clement’s performances.

The acerbic Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) adds a more observant dynamic to the general buffoonery of her housemates even as she’s still prone to similar moments of profound silliness, like stalking someone with an old camera that uses a vintage flashbulb. Elsewhere, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) emerges as the show’s most memorable creation: a caricature of a milquetoast, nasally desk jockey who’s revealed to be a day-walking psychic energy vampire. Colin, a sentient mound of dull khakis and sweaters, roams the cubicles of his day job, absorbing people’s boredom and irritation, which he amplifies with mind-numbing small talk. When he feeds, his eyes glow and his mouth gapes in an orgasmic snarl that would be frightening if it weren’t hilariously juxtaposed with Colin’s unassuming appearance.

The vampires’ goal is to conquer the “new world” of the United States (or maybe just Staten Island), which opens comic possibilities like a meeting at the aforementioned city council. There are other bits of continuity between episodes, like LARPing enthusiast Jenna’s (Beanie Feldstein) ongoing transformation into a vampire after Nadja took pity on her, but the series isn’t burdened by a serialized plot. For one, the third episode covers a werewolf feud totally unrelated to the group’s fumbling attempts at conquest of America.

Even with such departures, however, these episodes can struggle to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the film. The series certainly offers some amusing additions to this occult universe, but the comedic value of its more familiar material has begun to diminish now that the concept must sustain not only a feature-length movie, but multiple episodes of television.

Cast: Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, Mark Proksch, Beanie Feldstein Airtime: FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.



Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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