TCA Tour: Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Although the new Starz series, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” may involve a lot of guys and gals running around and committing all sorts of swordplay, you should in no way take the fact that it’s executive produced by Robert G. Tapert to indicate that it will in any way resemble earlier Tapert productions like, say, “Hercules” or “Xena.” I mean, heck, if the warrior princess herself doesn’t see any similarities, then anything you think you’ve spotted is strictly a case of looking too hard to find something that isn’t there.

“It’s totally different to me,” said Lucy Lawless, who plays Lucretia on the show. “Completely different, tonally. The fighting, the technology, everything has changed so much. I don’t recognize the fights at all. The way they do them is foreign to me.”

At the very least, there’s one element inherent to Lawless’s new gig that, for better or worse, her former series did not possess: lots and lots of sex. Despite the incredibly graphic nature of the intercourse, Stephen K. DeKnight – creator of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” – does not seem to be overly concerned about how audiences will react.

“Well, who doesn’t like sex?” he asks, quite rhetorically. “I mean, seriously, I think we’re all sexual beings, and back in the Roman times, it was a completely different idea about sex. It was much more open and free, and it was pre-Christian constraints. So we wanted to explore all that, quite frankly. It was very common to have sex with your slaves. It was extremely common. So we wanted to explore that, too. And part and parcel is the sensuality of the human experience, and we certainly didn’t want to shy away from that. Is it graphic? I personally don’t think it’s that graphic, but that’s me. I think it’s beautifully shot. There are some very steamy things. You know, it’s not pornographic in any way, and the sex scenes almost always come from a place of character. There’s always something going on. It’s not just ‘cue the funky music,’ and they start having sex. It’s not that. Somebody is always angling. It’s always about power. It’s always about love. It’s always about loss. Every sex scene has a purpose. It’s not just sex for sex’s sake.”

DeKnight described the series’ two distinct sides – one sexual, one violent – as going together like chocolate and peanut butter, and while he may have been kidding a bit with his Reese’s-inspired comparison, there’s a certain logic to his position. “It’s a violent time,” he said of the show’s era. “Much like their views on sex, the Roman views at the time on violence was you did not shy away from blood. Blood and death, it was part of being Roman. You embraced it. You liked to watch it. And also, just the sex and violence is part of the show, but if you’ve seen the first four or five, the plot lines become incredibly intricate. We really play with the idea that everybody wants something, everybody is after something, and everybody is against everybody else. Everyone is maneuvering, and it becomes very complicated and messy, and out of that comes blood…and often sex.”

Well, fair enough, then.

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Mid-holiday week movie news report (updated)

Somewhat to my surprise, given how slow Monday and Tuesday was, we have some movie news to report. Sadly, the first item is a bummer.

* Our very sincere condolences to the friends, family, and avid readers of writer and horror/gore maven Chas Balun, who died of cancer on December 18th. Probably mostly because of my phobia of the kind of movies he championed, Balun’s name wasn’t immediately familiar to me before this, but clearly the author and longtime contributor to Fangoria and Gorezone was a writer whose work meant a great deal to genre fans as well as a very sincere film geek/cinephile, and for that he has my respect. The Fangoria blog has a very good obituary.

* Sony has not been including a screener DVD for Duncan Jones’ highly regarded science fiction film, “Moon,” in its pre-Oscar promotional package. The result: “Twitter storm“!

Moon

* It’s now Sir Peter Jackson to you.  Considering the positive impact his LOTR tour de force must have had on the New Zealand economy, they might have considered making him king. Okay, New Zealand doesn’t have one. Also, I gather it’s more of a British Commonwealthy kind of a thing.

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Movie news notes…the “I’m burned out ” edition!

Oh, it’s really not so bad, but I’ve been working the big post below this all day and there’s still a bit more work ahead, so let’s get started and make it snappy.

* Domestic ticket sales for movies this year are expected to top a whopping $10 billion, I guess proving the old adage that the relatively cheap entertainment of movies is a good business to be in tough economic times. If a studio exec takes you to lunch, you have my permission to order an appetizer.

* The Wall Street Journal has anecdotal reports of kids asking Santa for items like socks, school shoes, and eyeglasses. The recession affects everyone. So, out goes the glitz, in comes the chic intimate soirees for Hollywood awards promotion which still sound bloody expensive to me. But, note the item above. Also, it’s not like all that money would go to charity if they weren’t having the parties. It keeps caterers and bartenders working.

* In a move that could impact both the cable TV and movie business in a fairly big way, highly lauded former HBO head Chris Albrecht is joining Starz TV and will oversee new original content there. Nikki Finke has the (self-confirmed) scoop. Albrecht, who had been at HBO for 22 years, lost his job in 2007 when he was arrested after a violent public incident with his girlfriend, which he blamed on a relapse in his recovery as an alcoholic. La Finke says his personal problems are behind him; I’m certain the Starz folks think that’s true.

* “X-Men” movie fans will want to check out this interview with Bryan Singer.  After seeing “Avatar,” he’s contemplating whether or not to do his “Jack, the Giant Killer” in 3-D.

* Anne Thompson has some interesting, if somewhat in-the-weeds, details on the fall out of the Dreamworks/Paramount divorce.

* There’s an old joke along that lines of “that movie wasn’t released, it escaped!” Well, apparently the new Kevin Costner supernatural thriller is being given a token release that’s practically a state secret. So says the Playlist. I’m not convinced he’s washed up, though I suppose his leading man days could be more or less behind him and his character actor days ahead of him — but another old joke, updated: the four stages of an actor’s career. “Who’s Kevin Costner?” “Get me Kevin Costner!” “Get me a young Kevin Costner! “Who’s Kevin Costner?”

For a contrasting, somewhat NSFW, point of view, see below.

  

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Friday night news dump (updated)

Time for our usual week-ending grab bag of left over and end-of-week movie stories…

* Two executive deaths today. First was 76 year-old nearly lifelong Paramount executive Gino Campagnola. That was followed by Nick Counter of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. As Nikki Finke recounts, he was the guy whose job it was to negotiate with unions in the recent negotiations and strikes with the guilds. Not surprisingly, there are some hard feelings, as evidenced by some of her commenters who really crossed the line in terms of simply being mean about the man’s death.

As a liberal, I’m always going to tend to side with unions, but the man is dead and making the best deal for the bosses was kind of his job. You don’t have to like him, but calling him a “scum bag” or talking about karma on the day of his death is not cool. I wonder if Finke, who is known for zealously controlling her comments and once removed an entirely innocuous, on topic, comment about “Mad Men” by me after an unrelated exchange with me here, will leave those comments up. She has also posted official reactions from SAG which are, of course, much nicer.

* As “This Is It” passed the $100 million mark domestically and is at $144 million worldwide, the Jacksons as a whole make a mark at AFM (American Film Market) with some intriguing sounding seventies footage. [Update: I obviously got confused a bit by the headlines on this piece. As of Sunday 11/8/09, the music doc is estimated to have made “only” $57, 855 in the U.S. market.]

This-is-it-Film-Michael-Jackson-small

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Starz series “Crash” does its inspiration justice

After mowing through the first season of “Crash” on the Netflix streaming service, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The series is based on the same concept as the 2004 film of the same name — the lives of otherwise disparate Angelinos are ultimately connected.

It stars Dennis Hopper as Ben Cendars, a past-his-prime record mogul. In reality, Hopper is playing the same role he always plays — a man with great presence and intelligence who may or may not be totally insane. He takes a young wannabe rapper (Jocko Sims) under his wing as he tries to wrest control of his record company from his resentful daughter (Kari Matchett).

Another (and more dominant) storyline revolves around a married police officer (Ross McCall) who, via a car crash, gets involved with a beautiful but dangerous gypsy (Moran Atias). His partner (Arlene Tur) is having an affair with a dirty detective (Nick Tarabay) who is moonlighting for a Korean kingpin. A gang-banger-turned-paramedic (Brian Tee) gets tangled in this web, and a detective from another precinct (Tom Sizemore) is called in to investigate.

The series also follows a Guatemalan immigrant who makes the trek through Mexico to the U.S., a married couple that loses their life savings in the real estate market, and a homicide detective who is tasked with keeping a young witness alive long enough to testify against a murder suspect.

As we learned on “The Shield,” dirty cops make for excellent television, and while “Crash” isn’t quite as gritty, it serves as a nice fix for those missing Vic Mackey and Co. I’d also recommend it to those that liked “Southland” in that it’s successful in telling a big story that involves a lot of different moving parts. Unlike these two series, “Crash” is on pay cable, so the creators have even more freedom to tell their story.

Season 2 debuts on Starz on September 18. Between this series and the excellent comedy “Party Down,” Starz has something going.

  

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