REVIEW: SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED

CAST

Liam McIntyre (Legend of Hercules)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Dustin Clare (Wolf Creek TV)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)
Cynthia-Addai-Robinson (Arrow)
Pana Hema Taylor (Dead Lands)
Simon Merrells (The Wolfman)
Ellen Hollman (The Scorpion King 4)
Anna Hutchison (Power Rangers Jungle Fury)


RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Ditch Davey (Crawlspace)
Christian Antidormi (Strike Back)
Jenna Lind (Burning Man)
Colin Moy (Xena)
Jared Turner (Filfthy Rich)
Anthony Ray Parker (The Matrix)
Stephen Lovatt (Neighbours)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Todd Lasance (The Vampire Diaries)
Joel Tobeck (Young Hercules)

And so comes the beginning of the end as War Of The Damned brings to its conclusion series’ creator Stephen DeKnight’s take on the story of Spartacus. Picking up where the last arc in the continuity left off, the ever controversial show once again takes us back to the days of ancient Rome to offer up the final chapter of the slave revolt around which the show is based. As with the story arcs that preceded it, the show does not want for sex, nudity and graphic violence, much stronger than most have seen on TV before, but that there is half the charm. Everything about the series, from the performances the set design to the digital effects work is so over the top that it’s hard to imagine the series being nearly as fun had the exploitative elements been toned down in the least. When the story beings, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) has teamed up with Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Gannicus (Dustin Clare) to lead the slaves in bloody revolt against the armies of the Roman Empire. They won’t win an easy victory but Spartacus figures that to really win their freedom they’re going to have to set up a city fortress of sorts in order to have a location that will serve not only as a stronghold but also as a headquarters.As they set about making this a reality in hopes that once accomplished it will allow them to really ramp up their military operations, the powers that be in Rome lick their wounds and look for ways to replace soldiers lost in battle and refill their coffers. The Senate decides that the best man for this job is a wealthy Roman named Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrells). He comes in with enough money to help and is more or less put in charge of the military forces dedicated to putting the slaves back in their rightful place. While Crassus sets about doing this, a young Roman man named Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) is brought on board for the specific purpose of going undercover and making his way into Spartacus’ inner circle. The series sticks to the same formula that made the earlier storylines so much fun: lush production values,  epic and bloody battles, sex, backstabbing political types. A series that makes no qualms whatsoever about playing up not only the decadence of the Roman Empire during which it has been set  but also the more violent side of life during those times. The series is all the better for it. Underneath all of this surface level insanity, however, is the final chapter of a pretty well told story. Characters develop nicely and are given interesting personalities and the various plot lines that are woven throughout the series can occasionally be intricate and genuinely surprising. As such, there’s a good amount of suspense here.McIntyre shines in the lead again, showing a confidence and a naturalness in the part that really helps to carry the series. The other cast members all do good work here as well. Merrells and Lasance are both great on the opposing side of McIntyre and company as the soldiers. Performances are rarely, if ever, subtle but they fit the tone of the story and of the series as a whole. Merrells, in fact, tends to steal any scene he’s in even if he occasionally chews the scenery. Throw Ellen Hollman as a female warrior named Saxa and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Naevia, Crixius’ main squeeze, and you can see that the ladies not only look great here but they hold their own in front of the cameras as well.The series ends on a high note, bringing together everything it laid out beforehand rather nicely. Would it have been possible to stretch it out further? Sure, but then you run the risk of the series starting to become old hat and with it already being repetitive in certain ways this far in, that was probably a legitimate concern on the part of the writing crew. As it stands now, the series remained a solid watch all the way through, a show that put entertainment first and succeeded in doing so. It’s easy to see why this quickly became and stayed a fan favorite.

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REVIEW: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE

 

CAST

Liam McIntyre (Legend of Hercules)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Viva Bianca (Showing Roots)
Katrina Law (Arrow)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)
Nick E. Tarabay (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow)
Dustin Clare (Wolf Creek TV)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Brett Tucker (Thor: The Dark World)
Kevin J. Wilson (Legend of The Seeker)
Brooke Williams (12 Monkeys)
Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Acolytes)
Tom Hobbs (Winners & Losers)
Pana Hema Taylor (The Dead Lands)
Mark Ferguson (Power Rangers Operation Overdrive)
Peter McCauley (The Lost World)
Bede Skinner (Power Rangers Jungle Fury)
Delaney Tabron (Deathgasm)
Stephen Ure (Xena)
Ellen Hollman (The Scorpion King 4)
Michael Hurst (Hercules: TLJ)

After triumph and tragedy, the Spartacus saga returns to the small screen to continue the tale of a former slave who has lost everything and will do whatever he can to exact vengeance on those that have done him wrong. Spartacus: Vengeance picks up after the events of the first season, which was called Blood and Sand. The show went into production, but had to be delayed due to Andy Whitfield’s illness and subsequent death. Gears shifted and a prequel was created that follow the events that led up to Blood and Sand called Gods of the Arena, which introduced more characters that carried over into Vengeance.

Spartacus: Blood and Vengeance picks up shortly after the events that culminated with the House of Batiatus massacre where Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) freed all of the gladiators and led them to revolt. He and his comrades carry on freeing slaves and adding them to their ranks. Since the House of Batiatus no longer stands Spartacus’ new quest is to kill the man who committed his wife to slavery, Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker).

Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) has returned, and this time she bears the gift of foresight from the Gods. Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) is back and even colder,conniving, and more delicious than ever. Along with her husband and Rome emissary  husband, they will try to squash the uprising led by Spartacus and his legion.

I loved Andy Whitfield’s performance in Blood and Sand, because it’s what cemented that season’s success. We were there for the journey, side by side with him until the end. Gearing up for season two, he took ill, and would not come back to finish the series. I was sort of skeptical, because I didn’t think the show could carry forward without Andy. Gods of the Arena was awesome, because it introduced Gannicus (Dustin Clare).

The show retains its quality while adding colorful embellishes here and there – more notably, the slow-motion scenes seem to have been tweaked, which gives them a faster look even though we’re watching it in slow motion. I really enjoyed that the full supporting cast was made the primary character of the series.

As far as the new Spartacus goes – Liam McIntyre had some pretty big shoes to fill, although it takes a few episodes to get use to him, he becomes a welcome addition to the cast and makes the character his own. The relationships of some of the other characters like Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt); and the Gannicus and Oenomaus dynamic carried over from Gods of the Arena were fascinating.  Spartacus: Vengeance brings on the blood, sex, and violence and reaches new heights in its depiction of it all. It’s hardcore to the max.

REVIEW: SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA

CAST

John Hannah (Agents of Shield)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Dustin Clare (Wolf Creek TV)
Jaime Murray (Ringer)
Marisa Ramirez (Blue Bloods)
Antonio Te Maioha (Zoolander 2)
Nick E. Tarabay (Arrow)
Craig Walsh-Wrightson (Vertical Limit)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Jeffrey Thomas (The Hobbit)
Temuera Morrison (Tatu)
Stephen Lovatt (Neighbours)
Jessica Grace Smith (Home and Away)
Steven A. Davis (Power Rangers Samurai)
Peter Feeney (30 Days of Night)
Jason Hood (Power Rangers Megaforce)
Stephen Ure (Deathgasm)
Andy Whitfield (The Clinic)

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” was one of 2010’s great television surprises.  it soon established itself as a smart, well acted, viscerally entertaining piece of entertainment that defied conventions by knowing just how much to take itself seriously while not being too embarrassed to be over-the-top and sleazy. Two of the biggest revelations of “Blood and Sand” were John Hannah as Batiatus  and Andy Whitfield as Spartacus, an unknown actor at the time, who over the initial 13 episodes of the series made a steadfast march towards stardom, displaying a healthy balance of humanity and brutality, giving viewers a true hero to root for. Sadly, Mr. Whitfield was forced to pass the mantle to another actor as his ongoing bout with cancer proved to be too much to handle while shooting such a physically taxing series. In place of a second season, a six-episode prequel was commissioned, titled Gods of the Arena, it would tell the tale of Batiatus’ rise to power in Capua as well as provide much desired backstories for some of Blood and Sand’s more memorable supporting characters. While, a prequel in nature, Gods of the Arena begins where Blood and Sand left off, so new viewers take heed and leave this title be until you’re caught up, otherwise face having the many twists and shocking revelations of Blood and Sand spoiled. That said, Gods of the Arena manages to shake off many issues inherently present in prequels, but falls victim to a few nearly unavoidable ones. Without Spartacus to focus on, a new hero must step forward and Gods of the Arena provides two. First up is perhaps the most fearsome and brutal gladiator to enter the Spartacus mythos, Gannicus (Dustin Clare), a practically unstoppable warrior whose boredom with low-level fights results in him toying with opponents, grandstanding, and ultimately taking a lax attitude towards training. Clare steps up to the task of giving a hero viewers can cheer for, bringing a level of humanity to the character that echoes Whitfield’s own talents in Blood and the Sand. Gannicus’ quieter moments come in private conversations with his friend, fellow champion, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), who viewers will surely recognize as”Blood and Sand’s”head trainer, Doctore. The inclusion of a pre-Doctore Oenomaus, is a stellar example of the little character details Gods of the Arena is able to provide.Also returning are Manu Bennett as Crixus, Spartacus’ main rival throughout Blood and Sand, however here, Crixus finds himself a newly purchased slave and raw gladiatorial talent, making his attitude toward the brash Spartacus resonate with greater meaning. Bennett really puts in overtime playing a character we know, but don’t fully recognize as first. As his story progresses, Gods of the Arena manages to nicely fit in backstories for Ashur (Nick Tarabay), who has yet to become the crippled Assassin for Batiatus and Barca (Antonio Te Maioha), one of Blood and Sand’s more pleasant supporting surprises. Added to the chaos of the arena, is Batiatus’ current Doctore, a much welcome Temuera Morrison. As fascinating as the politics of the arena and training grounds are, what likely has fans checking the series out is John Hannah and Lucy Lawless as Batiatus and Lucretia, respectively. Gods of the Arena is truly their show, giving Hannah and Lawless free range to go over-the-top without once losing credibility. While Blood and Sand was firmly the story of Spartacus’ rise in the gladiator circuit, Gods of the Arena is the tale of Batiatus’ entry into the big time fights and his first step into the web of Roman politics that came as a shock in the preceding series. Hannah firmly sheds any mainstream association with his goofy sidekick roles in “The Mummy” films and every moment of his screen time is a treat as the writers up the ante on the absurd and profane statements spilling from his mouth, that only Hannah seems to be able to make sound Shakespearean. Likewise, Lawless is as over-the-top, but not as blatantly animated as Hannah and there is no question her character’s true love for her husband despite known infidelities, as Lucretia positions herself as a deadly Roman viper, refusing anyone stand in the rise of Batiatus.Gods of the Arena introduces some new characters, namely Batiatus’ father (Jeffrey Thomas) and Oenomaus’ wife Melitta (Marisa Ramirez) whose fates are probably easily guessed by their obvious absence from the previous series. That’s not to say every new character in Gods of the Arena leaves a corpse, the reality is quite the opposite. The events set-up here will have ramifications that will continue throughout the series. Ultimately, a few characters, namely Melitta come off as more necessary evils than flesh and blood characters we should emotionally invest our selves in.Fans of  Blood and Sand should be entirely pleased by this solid prequel.

REVIEW: SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND

 

CAST

Andy Whitfield (The Clinic)
John Hannah (Agents of Shield)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Erin Cummings (Bitch Slap)
Viva Bianca (Accidents Happen)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Nick E. Tarabay (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Antonio Te Maioha (Zoolander 2)
Craig Walsh-Wrightson (Vertical Limit)
Jai Courtney (Divergent)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Kevin J. Wilsaon (Legend of The Seeker)
Eka Darville (Power Ragers RPM)
Lesley-Ann Brandt (Gotham)
John Bach (The Tattooist)
Jon Brazier (Xena)
Matthew Chamberlain (King Kong)
Brooke Williams (12 Monkeys)
Tania Nolan (Step Dave)
Mike Edward (Filthy Rich)
Katrina Law (Arrow)

Spartacus: Blood and Sand  has the misfortune of borrowing too much from 300 and Gladiator in its pilot episode which could caused some viewers to immediately change the channel or give up after that premiere episode. thankfully many stayed with the show as it truly became a must see show.

In The Red Serpent an unnamed Thracian warrior (Andy Whitfield) who pledges he and his people’s support to Rome in exchange for their military assistance against hordes of Barbarians. What follows is a greatest hits collection of those two films, but with a much lower budget and a very odd, over exaggerated take on violence. We meet the warrior’s wife, Sura (Erin Cummings) and their parting before our hero goes to war is straight from “300,” as is his outfit and the slow-mo to sped-up fight scenes. Then a betrayal from the Romans happens and our warrior becomes an outlaw, only to be torn from his wife and taken to a nearby town, Capua, to be executed in the arena. Then, just like “Gladiator” our hero uses his knowledge of war to best four gladiators, when the heart of the crowd, and catch the eye of a local lannista, Batiatus (John Hannah), who buys the warrior and dubs him Spartacus.Spartacus evolves into a lethal warrior of the coliseum. It’s not a fast process, and the first few episodes while entertaining, are nothing compared to the series when it races towards the season finale. Once a member of Batiatus’ ludus, he quickly encounters opposition from reigning champion, Crixus (Manu Bennett), the undefeated Gaul and Barca, the “Beast of Carthage” an equally brutal warrior who is later revealed to have a more private, tender side. the series doesn’t make the mistake of giving us a protagonist who is an instant success, Spartacus is definitely skilled, but as the doctore or trainer (Peter Mensah, a very welcome presence on the series) stresses, he is nothing compared to the men of the ludus (gladiator school) who have been training for fights to the death for much longer; this is their way of life, one Spartacus must learn to accept and respect if he is to survive and find his wife, taken by the legatus who betrayed him in the pilot. With the promise of support by Batiatus in seeing this task carried out, Spartacus begins his journey from warrior of a small village to eventual legend of the arena.UntitledSpartacus: Blood and Sand is quite brilliant in its ability to slow build an intricate web of plots involving all characters, big and small at some point in this freshman season. While the advertised story is Spartacus’, the real intrigue comes from Batiatus’ quest to break into local politics. With his devious wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) by his side manipulating the wife of the same legatus responsible for Spartacus’ wife’s enslavement; the end goal, a foot in the door. To get a series about Roman life without heavy handed political plotlines is extremely refreshing; the characters of Blood and Sand are all ruthless in one way or the other and while Batiatus and Lucretia aspire to increase their station in life, they still largely know only a few ways to go about things and when things don’t work out for Batiatus, violence often follows. John Hannah is an absolute delight in the role, chewing scenery right and left, committing heinous acts and still managing to win the hearts of viewers with his earnest respect for Spartacus. Too long a supporting player in films like “The Mummy,” Hannah shows his underutilized talent to the fullest and is easily one of the most fascinating characters to watch. Likewise, Lucy Lawless is no slouch herself, playing a spoiled wife doing her husband’s bidding by day and having an affair behind his back with Crixus the minute he steps outside the ludus to try and better their lives.Manu Bennett quietly evolves from a general jackass to one of the series’ most complex characters as Spartacus’ main rival Crixus and is a major player in events regarding the arena. Back on the sand of the training yard, Spartacus finds an ally in Varro, the only man in the school who willingly signed himself into service. Varro represents a humanity Spartacus has lost, a man with a wife and child he fights to support and Varro, himself, grows as a character highlighting the show’s writers treating no character as unimportant. Minor characters such as Naevia, Lucretia’s personal slave comes to prominence as the love interest of Crixus creating yet another subplot, a romantic triangle that could have very deadly consequences. A lot of these little side stories are thrown out to the audience rather quickly and it can be overwhelming at first, making the first four episodes weaker compared to the latter episodes. The fifth episode, “The Shadow of Death” is a true game changer, cementing some characters in roles they will remain in until the end of the season and setting events into motion that will play out as expected in some cases, but in others throw the audience curveballs they could have never predicted. Episodes like “Party Favors” and “Whore” are prime examples, setting up the final act of each episode and building character depth prior to; then out of nowhere, something shocking happens that changes the dynamic of the show and many relationships between characters. While, I ultimately had an idea of where the show would end its season at (it is after all loosely based on the true story of Spartacus and the slave rebellion), I never expected what was to come in that final episode, “Kill Them All,” despite the ominous title.Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of “Spartacus” will likely arise, but to be honest, aside from using the historical story as a story guide, thankfully, the series doesn’t try to ape Kubrick. Some of the most colorful language this side of “Deadwood” is uttered, nudity is plentiful and the show is not shy with copious amounts of heavily stylized, CG, blood and gore. Heads are cleaved, faces are crushed, limbs are dismembered, people are crucified and castrated; think of a violent act and it likely occurs at some point in the series.After 13 episodes that kept me on my toes up to the final frame, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” wraps up very nicely, paving a way for a second season that could take any number of roads. Sadly, Andy Whitfield, the tremendous actor behind the titular character died. Initially diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the creators delayed production, instead filming a six-episode prequel focusing on life in the ludus before Spartacus’ arrival. Whitfield, given a clean bill of health was all set to resume filming on the new season, when his cancer returned and he had to make the heartbreaking decision of quitting a show that made him a star and he played a large part in its success. He died a few months later.

REVIEW: SPARTACUS (1960)

 

 

CAST

Kirk Douglas (The Devil’s Diisciple)
Laurence Olivier (Clash of The Titans)
Jean Simmons (The Big Country)
Charles Laughton (Mutiny on The Bounty)
Peter Ustinov (Death of The Nile)
John Gavin (Psycho)
Nina Foch (Sliver)
John Ireland (Red River)
Herbert Lom (The Dead Zone)
Joanna Barnes (The Parent Trap)
Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot)

Spartacus is one of the great Hollywood epics and Kirk Douglas’ defining role. It is a brilliantly written screenplay that combines the struggle for freedom from oppression with a compelling love story in a setting that accurately depicts the majesty as well as the corruption of the Roman Empire. The scenes depicting the political maneuvering of the Senate were priceless.

Kubrick’s work was nothing short of brilliant. His attention to the details of the period was wonderful. The orchestration of tens of thousands of extras in the battle scenes was phenomenal. His presentation of the love scenes between Varinia and Spartacus were sensitive and compelling. I was most impressed with his treatment of the slave army. He put a human face on the slaves by showing mothers with their children and scenes of Spartacus walking among the people. This completely wins the affections of the viewer. His pacing was perfect and despite the film’s length at over three hours, it did not seem to drag since there was always something fascinating on the screen.

Kirk Douglas gave a powerful performance and created a character that was bigger than life. He was strong and inspirational while simultaneously being gentle and kind. Laurence Olivier gave a riveting performance Crassus. He was cunning, imperious, consumed by ambition and utterly heartless. It is hard to imagine a more nefarious bad guy.

Jean Simmons has had an impressive acting career that has spanned more than 50 years. She is both a great beauty and an enchanting actress. She gave Varinia dignity, strength of character and a quiet seductiveness that played well off the power exuded from Douglas. Their screen chemistry was both passionate and touching. Rounding out a great cast were Peter Ustinov who was terrific as the sniveling and cowardly Batiatius always conniving to profit from someone else’s misfortunes, and Charles Laughton as the astute and duplicitous Gracchus, manipulating the Roman senate to his best advantage.

The last decisive battle scene between the slave army and Roman legions was magnificently staged. The extras playing the Roman legionnaires marched in formation so precisely, and the whole formation moved like a single organism. The blinding flash, which was created when thousands of extras simultaneously pointed their shields toward the camera, was absolutely awe-inspiring. Just before the two armies clashed, thousands of extras playing the Roman army quickly and precisely reorganized the formation to create skirmish lines. This was a site to behold. It must have been absolutely terrifying for the foes of Rome to watch the formations of these robot-like, super-precise Roman legionnaires charging toward them. This is among the best epics ever made and certainly among the top three films about the Roman Empire. This film should be on every film buff’s list of required viewing and is highly recommended for its moving story to anyone who hasn’t seen it.