Alex Kecskes

Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of film reviews and celebrity interviews for a wide variety of online and print outlets. He has covered red carpet premieres and Comic-Con events for major films and independent releases.

Wake Wood: The Dead should be left Dead

A low-budget thriller that creeps up on you until you find yourself carnally engrossed, Wake Wood offers slime-glistening birth scenes, violent deaths, and the moral lesson that when people die they should stay dead. There’s plenty of pathos here, and ritualistic remote village paganism. Both viscerally connect viewers to one undeniable truth: how deeply parents can love their children.

Between flashbacks and solace-seeking slices of life in a small rural village–appropriately named Wake Wood–we’re introduced to a young professional couple trying to come to grips with the tragic and violent loss of their nine-year old daughter Alice (Ella Connolly). Veterinarian Patrick Daly (Aidan Gillen) and his pharmacist wife Louise (Eva Birthistle) are still in pain and find it difficult to deal with the daily reminders of their loss.

Early on, Wake Wood foreshadows what’s to come as Patrick skillfully performs a Caesarian section on a cow. When Arthur (Timothy Spall) the village elder takes an interest in the young couple’s grief, we sense a sinister undertone that beguiles them to consider an “alternative” to their suffering. This dovetails nicely with a woman who enters Louise’s shop accompanied by a freakishly disturbed teen with a ghastly pallor. Three days later, the teen is paraded out of the village by a cultish group playing wood clicking drums. Patrick and Louise are told that the village elders of Wake Wood have a solution to their grief. Of course, there are promises to be made and consequences if they’re not kept.  Severe consequences.

The Daly’s finally agree to all terms. But they weren’t completely honest with the village elders, and as those accustomed to these tales will tell you: never lie when you make a pact with stewards of the undead. The film exploits the birthing motif, uniting it with a pagan ritual of mud that creates life from death—if only temporarily.

Keating milks everything he can out of his actors and locations. There are plenty of foreboding glances, knowing smirks and dialog-free moments that communicate more than could be said. The unspeakable is clearly not spoken of, yet viewers get a sense of what’s to come—a Money’s Paw arrangement that goes horribly bad for the Dalys and several of the villagers. Then there’s the creepy atmospherics created by the massive wind turbines on the outskirts of Wake Wood. They are the sentinels that guard Wake Wood from the infidels who violate its covenants. Relentlessly churning like giant demon heartbeats, they perform a unique function far beyond simply juicing the village with power.

Wake Wood is clearly a film whose death scenes are far less disturbing than its depiction of bizarre births. Animal husbandry serves as a metaphor for the violence of birth and the abrupt finality of death–as when a stun gun is used to kill a bull or when a Caesarian section draws life out of spilt blood. It’s all wrapped up nicely in a Hitchcockian ending we had an inkling was coming.

 

 

 

 

Jessica Morris Talks About Fading of the Cries

Playing a freakish demon who teams up with a malevolent sorcerer, Jessica Morris terrorizes a teenage girl in a farm town in Fading of the Cries. The film is rife with stunning special effects, heroic magic-filled battles, and hordes of demonic creatures. In this one-on-one interview, Morris reveals how she prepared for her role, some insights into her films and her acting career. Read more

Torchwood: Miracle Day: Everything you hoped for


Coming to the Starz network on July 8th, episode 1 of Torchwood Miracle Day is the British import that’s creating quite a buzz. The series premiers with an unsettling scene involving the scheduled execution of Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes, an unsavory deviant who certainly deserves death by needle. When he is freakishly spared his fate, we’re left to consider the possibility that the death cocktail entering his veins was somehow botched as confused med techs rush about (of course, anyone who has seen the trailers will know better).

The anticipation builds as to whose life will be spared next. And we’re not disappointed as we abruptly segue into the near death of CIA agent Rex Matheson (ER’s Mekhi Phifer), who is impaled by a metal pipe in a horrific truck accident.  As hospital wards overflow with patients who refuse to die, and reports from around the world spread the news, we’re forced to accept the undeniable, yet highly implausible premise: no one on Earth is dying.

And so it goes, day after day, until it sinks in to even the most ardent disbelievers–death, has taken a vacation.  Then on the sixth day—well, things change somewhat (no spoilers here). For individuals and their loved one’s, it’s a heaven-sent miracle, but taken on a global scale, you’re looking at a time bomb of accelerated overpopulation–and therein lies Torchwood’s major premise: how does the planet and humanity deal with that?

Keeping things interesting and the viewer slightly off balance is the fact that action takes place on both sides of the Atlantic. In Whales, Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper) with husband, Rhys (Kai Owen), and their baby mix humor and action in a sort of Undercover Blues style that delights and entertains. Who else but Eve can fire a pistol while holding a giggling baby?

Stateside, Alexa Havins’ Esther Drummond is the C.I.A. freshman who longs for field duty and gets more than she bargained for when she dodges a hail of bullets and is exploded out of a high rise with C.I.A. agent Rex Matheson. Together they try to piece together a global conspiracy borne out of the Torchwood project (created by an old, secret British institute). Seems the files on Torchwood disappear whenever someone tries to access them, and anyone who dares to look into Torchwood is K.I.A.

As for Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), let’s just say there’s an interesting surprise waiting for viewers at the end of the episode, something that takes the story in an unexpected direction.

Arlene Tur’s Dr. Vera Juarez is the Washington D.C. surgeon, who finds herself advising government think tanks on how to deal with the world’s sudden exploding population. It’s a geometric growth that threatens the viability of the human race in just four months.

Pullman’s talent is fully exploited as the publicity-seeking murderer who has cheated death. Buoyed by power publicist Ambrose  (Jlly Kitzinger), he personifies the darkest side of death’s holiday as he addresses an anti-death-penalty crowd and threatens to sue the Governor unless he is set free.

Torchwood’s creator and lead writer, Russell T Davies did an excellent job of mixing exposition and intrigue, spiced with just the right amount of humor. And the bigger budget has certainly helped Torchwood, with the extra cash going for stunning location shoots, breathtaking helicopter stunts and Rambo-style pyrotechnics.

Interview with TRUE BLOOD’s Mariana Klaveno

 

Best known as the sexy, deliciously evil and emotionally complex Lorena in HBO’s True Blood, Mariana Klaveno has delighted fans as the psycho-vamp who can’t seem to get enough of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). The talented actress also starred in the feature film While the Children Sleep (released as The Sitter on DVD). If you’re a fan, you know that HBO has renewed True Blood for a 12-episode fourth season, slated to premiere in June 2011. And like most die hard fans, you’re hoping she’ll somehow return. In this revealing interview, Klaveno explains how she got her start, her thoughts about a role so many have come to love and admire, and the scenes people just can’t stop talking about.

So you literally lived on a Washington farm until you were 18. Did you dream of becoming an actress when you were young?

Mariana Klaveno:  For as long as I can remember, acting is something I always wanted to do. I don’t really know where that impulse came from. I was kind of secretive about it until my junior year in high school. I thought it was such a wild, outlandish goal to have.

What were you like in High School?

MK: That’s a good question. Most of the time, I was just waiting to go to college.  The area where I grew up was really fantastic, a wonderful place to be a child, but by the time I got to high school, I was ready to go to a big city and experience different cultures, study acting, basically, enjoy all the things a big city has to offer. I wasn’t that great in sports and that was really a big thing where I grew up. So there were some awkward years with me trying to be an athlete. My high school was too small to have a drama class, so I had to wait until college.

You worked as a hostess at Morton’s in Burbank where you met J.J. Abrams who helped get you on Alias. How did that help your career as an actress?

MK: It gave me my first TV credit, which is not a small thing when you’re starting out. It’s a Catch 22 if you’re looking for work. It was a great experience being on Alias and I’m forever grateful to J.J. for that. That first credit does set the wheels in motion.

You thought you didn’t get the role of Lorena after your fist audition. Was it because you thought you should have dressed “evil” for the read?

MK: When I read the scene, which was a great one where we first meet Lorena. She struck me as a sad, lonely character. And I thought it would be so much more effective if you saw that side or her. So when she reveals herself as this powerful, scary vampire, it’s that much more jolting. And so I dressed as innocently as possible—with sweet little curls, almost no makeup, and light pink and beige outfits. Some of the other girls showed up in dyed black hair, heavy makeup and sexy outfits. Fortunately, my gamble worked.

Did you always have this fascination with vampires? Is there something that draws you to them?

MK: I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I enjoyed a lot of the mythology, but I wouldn’t call myself a diehard vampire fan. I’m drawn to duplicitous characters more than anything–characters that are complex and more than they seem at first glance.  I think that drew me more to Lorena than her being a vampire. That said, it’s a lot of fun to play a super powerful character.

Charlaine Harris’s novels don’t go into a lot of detail about Lorena. Did you work with the writers to define the role?

MK: I got the call that I would be a series regular after doing one episode in season one, which was exciting and unexpected. I thought they would sit down with me and talk about where they wanted Lorena to go, her character arc, but they didn’t, which was terrifying and wonderful at the same time. Because I think that’s the way Alan and the writers work on the show. They really value the actors and they trust them. They want to see what you bring to the table.  Once I got over the initial shock of them not telling what to do, I said, “Okay, I guess I get to do what I want to do with this character.” It was really fun to find out where Lorena lived, about her body and voice. The flashback scenes helped me define the character.

Why do you think TRUE BLOOD has such a huge following?

MK: I think the show succeeds on so many levels. It has some much going on stylistically that there’s something for everyone. There’s the romance element, the horror, the camp, the action and comedy. I think the writers do a brilliant job of weaving all those elements together. You’re laughing one moment and scared the next. And it’s sexy in a way you’ve never seen before.

Besides being deliciously evil, what do you think drives Lorena, what makes her likeable, what are her human frailties? Is it more than just unrequited love?

MK: I made some decisions about what her human life may have been like to explain what drives her. I think that she lived a really tragic life as a human.  I think she was denied love and possibly even victimized as a human, and that’s what drives her toward a darker, more violent place. She wields that power in a way that she was unable to as a human.  It’s really important to her that she finds love and a true companion, and she believes she found that in Bill Compton. And that’s what makes her such a tragic character–she desperately wants someone who will never want her. The reason she loves Bill is the very reason that prevents him from returning the feeling. He’s an honorable man and that’s what drew her to him in the beginning.

You play such a seductively evil character, is there a hint of Lorena buried deep inside you?

MK: I think there has to be. I think she’s somewhere in there. I’m generally a very nice person. I’ve never been a psychotic ex-girlfriend.  But I think as an actor, you tap into something you’re very passionate about. And when you live in that place, you plant that seed into your character. There is a rage inside me somewhere that gets to come out through her, which makes it healthier than letting it come out in your real life.

So what did you think when you first read the head-turning sex scene with Stephen Moyer?

MK: I thought about my parents and said, oh, God, I hope they survive this one, which they did. Actually, that scene is very interesting. I know it got various responses from people and that really was the point. Alan and the writers really like to push the envelope in many different directions and take big risks. Playing that scene was difficult for a woman—you feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable to be victimized that way. But I had to keep reminding myself that she’s allowing everything to happen to her, and in a way, it’s empowering to her because the darker Bill becomes, the closer she feels he’s coming to her.  The more violent he becomes, the more he’s moving away from Sookie and his human life and back to her and the darkness of vampire life–which makes it even more messed up. So focusing on that made it easier to play that scene, knowing that she still has the power and holds all the cards. Even though it looked horrific, she’s not a helpless woman because she could have thrown him off at any moment.

In the Civil War flashback, you call Bill an “honorable man.”  What other traits besides his internal conflict to overcome evil draw you to Bill?

MK: She could sense his capacity for love. He’s a lover, poignantly expressed in one of his lines, “You can’t help but love.” And I think that’s very true. They’re both helpless lovers.

What are some of your favorite scenes?

MK: The 20’s flashback was really fun. The costumes really helped transform Lorena. I really enjoy working with Anna. My scenes with her, getting to play catty were fun. I also loved all my scenes with Denis O’Hare.

You wear some of the most stunning outfits. Do you have your favorites? Do you like Ina Soltani designs?

MK: I’m glad you brought that up. I was so lucky. I loved every time they brought me in for costume fittings. It was so exquisite, the things they’d put me in. Audrey Fisher, the brilliant costume designer was beside herself when my character was killed off because she lost the opportunity to bring out these gorgeous clothes.

Lorena accepted her demise at the very last minute at the hands of Sookie. Do you think she got what she deserved?

MK: I think she got what was poetic and appropriate. I tend to root for my character more than most. But I actually loved the way she went out, which wasn’t scripted for her, to give in the way she did. They were trying to decide what to do with my arms during the scene and rather than struggle, I brought up the fact that she’s not saying, stop, she’s saying she loves Bill. So I suggested, what if she accepts it and wants her last moments to be about what she treasures most–her love for Bill.

What went through your head when you sliced Bill open with that scalpel?

MK: You know, so many people have brought up the torture scene. Did everyone forget the things Bill did to me at the beginning of the season? He lit me on fire, he broke my neck, he punched me in the face. I thought it fitting that she sliced him up a little bit. That was a really fun scene—because the dialog was so great. The characters actually had some real moments they’d never shared before. It was just so sad and so revealing. It actually was a bit nerve wracking to slice him open because we only had one or two of those fake chests. And I had to be careful not to cut too deep.

What can you tell us about Season 4? Are they going to bring you back?

MK: You never know. They have ways of bringing people back. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if she shows up in a flashback. But so far, I don’t think she’s coming back soon. The next season is all about the witches.

So what’s next for you?

MK: I’m back to reading scripts and trying to choose the next project, which is fun but difficult. I try to be thoughtful about it. And look for something far away from the Lorena character, to be challenged and stay fresh.

Are you looking for a comedy or action film?

MK: Just something not so stylized and more reality based.  And I’d like to play something other than a villain.

Film or TV?

MK: I would love to do more film. That said, some of the best stuff out there is on TV right now.

An Interview with Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith -- seriously, man

New Jersey born and raised, the outspoken Kevin Smith broke into the indie scene with the critically acclaimed Clerks, which won the highest award at Sundance. Clerks then begat Mallrats, which Smith called a “smart Porkys.” Panned by some critics, the film has since developed a growing cult following. Next came the sophisticated dramedy Chasing Amy (which won two independent Spirit awards), the religiously controversial Dogma, and the profane, laugh-out-loud road tripper Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back–the fifth endeavor in Smith’s View Askewniverse.

Smith then teamed up with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler to create the affectionate 90’s-era dramedy Jersey Girl. After that, it was Clerks II (which received an 8-minute standing ovation at Cannes), Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the action/comedy Cop Out, and the soon to be released politico/horror Red State.

Smith recently teamed up with Scott Mosier to launch a series of Smodcasts, which he describes as “the meandering palaver of a pair of dudes whose voices are so dull, they don’t deserve to be on the radio.” Smith loves hockey and is a loyal New Jersey Devils fan. In this interview, Smith candidly reveals the childhood influences and comedic heroes that shaped his ribald, socially confrontational brand of filmmaking.

So where to you get your ideas for your films?

The earlier ones like Clerks and Dogma, came from my youth growing up in New Jersey. They all stewed about in my head when I was a kid. They came from my world, my friends and the stuff I grew up in. Of course, nothing is really that interesting in regards to your personal life, so what you have to do is blow it up and make it more interesting. You dramatize it, pour tons of comedy on it to make it lewd or vulgar. Which is why I like doing these Smodcasts. We talk about shit that’s happened, shit we’ve done. It’s kind of like the things that my characters would do anyway. So this takes one step out of writing the movie. It kind of lets us do a movie a week. Just by the urgency of it, being able to do it week after week without having to mount an entire production.

Do you write your own scripts?

Yeah.  Although, the last movie I did, Cop Out, I directed but didn’t write. But generally, I’m the writer/director.

Are you pretty adamant about people following your script?

When I was younger, I used to insist on that. I didn’t know what a director was. I just wanted my actors to say the lines like I heard them in my head when I wrote them. So if the actors improvised, I’d say, let’s try it again. I never liked people deviating from the page. But then the older you get and the more you’re exposed to other talents, you realize that you benefit from people experimenting with the lines and bringing their talents to the table.

With Chris Rock in Dogma, I started to realize, like, oh shit, there is a benefit in having someone funnier than you ad lib the lines. If Chris is going to create something funny, hell, I’ll take it. Will Farrell’s another guy that’s funnier than my lines. After that, I pretty much let the funny actors do their thing. Like (Seth) Rogan will do 96 different versions of the same scene. So if my actors are going to say something funnier, more clever or more fitting for the film than what I’ve written, I’ll put it in and take credit for it (laughs).

What was your favorite movie when you were young? What inspired you?

The movies I liked were Animal House and Blues Brothers. I was a big John Landis and John Hughes fan. When I started getting into films and watching them more seriously, I grew to admire five flicks: Jaws, JFK, A Man for All Seasons, Do the Right Thing and The Last Temptation of Christ, which are 180 degrees from the shit I’ve ever done. I think the thing you like is the thing you don’t do. Comedies, I can put up there because I can make them. But I watch one of those movies and I could never do that—those dudes are artists.

Do you have a favorite comedian?

George Carlin, hands down. He was such a great guy. And unlike a lot of comics, he did not feel the need to be “on” in your presence. When he was on stage, he was on performance mode, and he was a consummate performer. He loved it and was a genius at it. But when he was off stage, and your talking to him, he wouldn’t be running bits on your or trying to make you laugh. You could sit there and converse with him normally, and you could talk to him about anything. He was extremely well read and knowledgeable. Hands down, he was one of the smartest men I ever met. And quite the role model.

I remember seeing Carlin at Carnegie when I was 12, and I was blown away. My father had bought me a George Carlin album, which was weird because we were Roman Catholics and my mom was pretty strict about language. I’d never seen Carlin, just heard him. And when his second HBO show came on, my mom said, “You can’t watch Carlin!” But my father said, “Relax, he’s Catholic.”

So the show opens with George coming out saying, “Did you ever notice that the people who are against abortion are people who you wouldn’t want to fuck in the first place?”  So I’m sitting there between my mother and my father and my father’s going uhhhh, and my mother storms out of the room. When she comes back, she says, “How can you let him watch this, these are terms, he doesn’t understand!” And I turned to my mom and I ask, “What’s abortion, mom?” So she left, but she came back later in the special when George started doing the Rice Crispies bit. And she loved it and totally forgave him for the abortion joke.

But George made a deep impression on me. Here was a man that was clearly well educated, clearly knew what he was talking about with a distinct, original point of view that really set him apart. And he felt very comfortable using what some people call coarse language. These were words that my drunken uncle would use, that were now in the hands of a master and they weren’t offensive to me, just colloquialisms used to string socially relevant thoughts together. But then he would do stupid stuff like dog humor and Rice Crispies humor, which my father and my mother liked.

Anyway, I remember thinking, that’s what I’d like to do. Not be a comedian, but the guy who can comfortably express himself, say whatever the fuck he pleases, say things the way Carlin would and be an individual. So Carlin was a huge hero of mine. I got to work with him in Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then I wrote him into a kind of serious role, called Jersey Girl.

The thing is, Carlin was an actor, first. That’s what he wanted to do when he was younger and he had great respect for the craft of acting.  The stage pulled him in a different direction, and his gift was to do what he did. But he didn’t get cast that much because people thought he just did hippie humor. With us, he got to do what he loved, and he was just like a kid in a candy shop.

I remember, we were doing a rehearsal on Jersey Girl and he came in to join Ben Affleck and me. And Carlin goes, “Before we get started, Kevin, I just want you to know, I wrote this back story down about why I’m always giving greenie a hard time, I memorized it and have since thrown it out. I won’t be referencing it at all unless you want me to. But I just wanted you to know that it’s there in case you need me to draw on something real in this scene.” I turned to Affleck and I said, “Why can’t you ever be this fuckin’ good?” (laughs)

I also loved Bill Cosby’s ability to string out an anecdote. He tells this one story on the back side of ‘To Russell My Brother’ Who I Slept With,’ which is like a half hour story. It’s fucking riveting. You can’t see it but you can hear it and it translates visually. He’s a very gifted storyteller.

What about physical comedy? Are you into that?

I tend to go even lower than physical comedy (laughs). For years, physical comedy’s been considered low in film. I found a way to go beneath physical comedy. I went for a kind of oral/verbal comedy. I’m not Chevy Chase.

If you could combine two genres in a single film, what would they be?

Hockey and Sci-Fi. Like Hockey and Tron. I try to get Hockey into my films. The next film we’re doing is Red State, and after that we’re doing a movie called Hit Somebody.

Have you warmed up to Mall Rats?

I always loved it. But I would always make fun of it. Mall Rats was the movie that really made me face the fact that not everyone is going to like what you do. Everyone loved Clerks, but critics hated Mall Rats and it didn’t make any money. It’s a real fucking cult favorite now. Same thing with Jersey Girl.  A lot of people beat the shit out of that movie. Only now, in the last two years, more people are vocal about liking it. So when Cop Out came out, critics cut its throat, I went, wow, this is all oddly familiar. It’s all matter of perspective.

Putting it all together in “Broken”

Hermosa Beach novelist, J. Matthew Nespoli hits a home run with “Broken” in what some call the great L.A. novel.  It’s an incisive bit of story telling that skillfully braids the lives of more than half a dozen strangers, each  reaching for the billboard  promise of happiness in the City of the Angels.

Nespoli hooks you in from page one with Sky, a pregnant, homeless 17-year old chasing that all-too-familiar dream of rock stardom while battling a drug addiction. Amber, on the other hand, is a young black mother on the run with her daughter, Kimberly, trying to stay one step ahead of two dangerous men from her past. And trying to stay a step ahead of his father is TJ, an out of work actor, who fails auditions by day, and dons a hamburger suit at the mall by night.

The list of “broken” characters is as varied as L.A.’s melting pot: a daughter of a mafia don, an overweight girl raised by two gay men, a sexually scarred psychologist, a lonely physical therapist, a retired professional football player addicted to pain killers, an aging model facing a dead-end career.  Like reading the personal diaries of 14 troubled souls, Nespoli draws you into their confidences, dreams and failures, shifting from one character’s POV narrative to the next. It’s unconventional but it works, delineating lives and personalities like the patchwork quilt of L.A.’s zip codes.

Based on real people, Broken offers a voyeuristic view of damaged individuals  in various states of disrepair. We’re given a Rear Window peek into their sometimes pathetic, aimless and self-destructive lives. Many just take one step forward and two steps back, never really gaining on life’s precarious game board.  Like so many people trapped in L.A.’s underbelly, hope tied to an unrealistic dream is both cure and curse. And when things go bad, sex and drugs keep them from total despair. One character takes us to the brink of suicide, another offers a glimpse  into the final seconds of death. Their stories are gripping, poignant, honest and in some cases riveting.

Broken succeeds because it admits a common truth in life: most people don’t really change. But because Broken is about the city of dreams, where people can change, we plow on, hoping that someone will win the lottery or become the next American Idol. It’s this struggle against adversity that propels Broken forward. And it pulls us into the lives of characters who seem, in some cases, just inches from success. We want to reach into the page, grab  Sky or TJ by the neck and lead them several hundred pages forward and yell, “see, this is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t change!”

The dialog is often crisp and sharp, revealing nuances of character, and moving the narrative forward without getting bogged down with too much exposition or moralizing. There are awkward pick up lines, snappy banter, even a wager between the sexes on the 405 freeway. And like an L.A. freeway, characters inch along, and pass each other only to reconnect later, discovering that each is stuck in life’s slow lane going nowhere.

Broken won best short story award from Joyous Publishing in 2006, and has been adapted as a screenplay, which is currently being shopped around Hollywood.

Spartacus TV Series: Sex and Violence on Steroids

First Season

“I need a hero…he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.” Basically, he’s gotta be Spartacus, Gannicus or Crixus.

The half-naked Romans in the stands of the gladiatorial arena wanted a rock star to relieve them of the boredom of 70s B.C. Rome.  There was no TV, no porno channel. No SAW movies to sate their lust for violence.  They wanted blood and sex.  And you can taste their hunger for both in Stars’ epic TV series, Spartacus. Shot in New Zealand and featuring mostly an eye-candy cast of unknowns, Spartacus makes today’s WWE SmackDowns seem like Olympic curling.

The testosterone-filled epic borrows from 300, adding a more rounded, protracted storyline that kept diehard fans tuning in week after week. Filmed almost entirely on a sound stage, the high-budget, 13-episode first season delivered the blood and sex other TV shows only promise.

Writer, creator and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight did a great job forging Australian newcomer Andy Whitfield into a hero with soul and substance. It doesn’t hurt that Whitfield has the body for the title role. When I interviewed Whitfield, he looked fit as a gladiator and talked about the training, “Our Boot Camp was 5 days a week, 4 hours a day for a whole month. And no junk food. It was literally 20 grams of this, 5 grains of that. You’re in great shape when you get out of boot camp but then you gotta shoot for 8 months and stay in shape. That’s the hard part. We practiced sword fighting and coordination, and you build a lot of camaraderie. ” Asked what attracted him to the role, he replied, “I loved the concept: Sin City, meets 300, meets Rome. ”

The Thracian gladiator had but one goal: to reunite with his wife, Sura (Erin Cummings), who was sold into slavery. Producers originally slated a sequel, but when Whitfield took ill, the star was forced to back away and a prequel was filmed.

Qunitus Batiatus (John Hannah), a Linista who runs a Ludus (gladiator school) is obsessed with entering Roman politics. A character of increasing complexity, Quintus slowly rises out of debt on the blood and sweat of Spartacus’ victories and almost succeeds in keeping the patronage of Roman legate Claudius Glaber (the very same legate who condemned Spartacus to slavery). Plans go awry when Spartacus leads a rebellion that wipes out nearly every Roman in Batiatus’ Ludus.

When I interviewed Hanna and asked about that final scene, he replied, “I thought it seemed morally right, there’s no real way Quintus could have survived. The whole concept was to follow historically what happened.”  Asked about the almost poetic dialog used in the series, Hanna noted, “Steven S. DeKnight is a brilliant writer, and I loved what he did. He created a sort of archaic Shakespearean dialog that was accessible, not just to a modern audience but an American audience—and I don’t mean anything detrimental about that.”

DeKnight reiterated, adding, “It wasn’t easy, and it was perhaps the one thing that created the biggest arguments in development. I call it Shakespeare meets Robert E. Howard. I studied as a playwright and combined the best elements of Shakespeare and Conan the Barbarian. During the first script conference people were saying, ‘what does this line mean? I don’t know what anybody’s saying?’ So I had to dial it back and it took a couple of episodes to dial it in. One thing people asked about was the use of modern curse words. And I had to explain to them that they did have these words, they were just in Latin.  Asked about the sociology of Rome Spartacus depicts, DeKnight observed, “We did some background research and we had two experts on hand, but I’ve always said, one shouldn’t write a term paper based on our Spartacus, because our first job is to entertain.”

Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) had her own problems. In the first season, she’s humbled by Ilithyia (Viva Bianca), then humiliates her in a smartly executed masked sexcapade that suddenly backfires when Ilithyia loses it and smashes the skull of Licinia, one of the richest women in Rome. Asked how she felt about that violent scene, Bianca exclaimed, “Lucretia lost almost everything in that moment and her life changed forever.” Asked about the outfits and masks she wore, Bianca replied, “They were absolutely fantastic.” Will she be back in season 2? “Yes, I’ll definitely be back in flying colors and so will Glaber. We’ll be going into more of our relationship.” Did she study the life of Roman women? “I did a bit of reading on that. The women in Rome had more rights than those in ancient Greece. They had a lot of power over their men back then, if you look at Ilithyia and Lucretia and the influence they had over their husbands, you can see that.”

The six-episode Gods of the Arena prequel delivered Spartacus on steroids. More sex, more blood, and some classic movie moments worthy of serious beer party palaver. Here, Gannicus (Dustin Clare) is the “rock star” that dispatches his opponents with a Tom Cruise bad-boy smile. After an opponent nicks him, Gannicus brazenly drops his sword and defeats him barehanded. Later, he defeats a muscle-bound mutant while blindfolded.  Then it’s cheap Roman wine and whores all night for the champion of Capua.

Later, when high-ranking Roman, Tullius (Stephen Lovat), beat and humiliated Batiatus, Batiatus, Gannicus, and Oenomaus do an “et tu Brute” on him and “Cask of Amontillado” his corpus into the new area (which Tullius financed).  The one sour note that many viewers objected to was the arena execution of slave Diona (Jessica Grace Smith) after being brutally deflowered by a Roman aristocrat in a sex orgy hosted by Lucretia.

The main event in the season finale of Gods of the Arena was everything bored Romans could hope for. A sine missione match up of the houses of Batiatus and Solonius. Confined by a ring of fire, the spectacularly staged and choreographed contests pitted Batiatus’ skilled titans against Solonius’ diaper-wearing mutants who had greater numbers and lesser skills. The final winner secured not only champion bragging rights but freedom.

There’s obviously much more to tell.  But with DVDs coming out (all loaded with eye-opening bonus features), it’s best left to watch–and wait, because friends, Romans and countrymen, the saga continues in the upcoming 13-episode Spartacus: Vengeance.