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Rome: Blood and Sand – The DVD Detective strikes again!

ONE MAN'S FIGHT TO SELL YOU A TV SERIES YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF

ONE MAN’S FIGHT TO SELL YOU A TV SERIES THAT YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF WITH GOOD REASON

Ever on the look-out for films that don’t actually exist, today I stumbled upon this improbable gem at my local Tesco – Rome: Blood and Sand.

Previously on the DVD Detective, we saw how easy it is to re-release an unknown film by combining the title of two successful TV shows, so this time around I wasn’t so much smelling rats as instantly identifying their sub-species of rodentia.

Fusing the titles of the underappreciated HBO series Rome and the over-appreciated nipples-and-gore delivery system Spartacus: Blood and Sand, some cynical distributor was trying to catch me off-guard again, and it wasn’t going to work. Not even the presence of Emily Blunt in the cast list could convince me that this wasn’t some C-list spectacle masquerading amongst the shelves of Smurfs and Twilight movies.

How right I was. Wading through the wiki, I at first assumed the renamed film in question might be Boudica, aka Warrior Queen (my how this was beginning to look like an identical tale to the Thrones & Empires debacle), one of Blunt’s earliest roles, but the casts didn’t align. Soon enough I found that my target was not a film at all but a TV mini-series, something the badly Photoshopped case had neglected to mention. Pity the fool who blind buys from Tesco.

Empire, a much-derided ABC television series that was drowned in the brief praise that accompanied HBO’s less forgotten venture, similarly tells the story of the early Caesars. To spice things up, the show injects the character “Tyrannus”, a former gladiator, into proceedings. It’s like they were baiting Ridley Scott into a lawsuit.

Look at Colm Feore there, so imperial and in no way made for televisiony

Look at Colm Feore there, so imperial and in no way made for televisiony

According to the back of the box Empire was praised by The Wall Street Journal for its “powerful acting”, a pull quote so suspicious I was shocked to google and discover it was both accurate and faithful to the intention of the reviewer. The cast of 24 veterans (James Frain, Colm Feore, Dennis Haysbert) and pre-Prada Blunt almost make this a show I’d be curious to check out. Although the best discovery of this adventure is learning that the show’s Marc Antony, Welsh actor Vincent Regan, is so much the swords and sandals whore that his filmography includes Troy, 300 AND Clash of the Titans (2010). Now if you ask me, that’s just a bit excessive.

If anything should really warn you off here, though, it’s that tagline. “One man’s fight to destroy an entire empire!” is completely off-rhythm. That “entire” is superfluous, and only draws attention to the fact that this DVD case is disguising its origins as “Empire”. If any empire has been destroyed here, it’s the show itself.

You can view the hilariously rushed and melodramatic opening to the series below. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Byzantium – All boob and no bite

"Eh, my eyes are up here": Clara (Gemma Arterton) is interviewed as a vampire

“Eh, my eyes are up here”: Clara (Gemma Arterton) is interviewed as a vampire

Neil Jordan returns to cinemas for the first time in four years with this neo-gothic vampire tale, just as that particular genre begins to sink below the zeitgeist waves. We are now post-Twilight, with True Blood and The Vampire Diaries in their second death throes.
But there’s life in the undead dog yet. Jim Jarmusch’s revisionist vampire art-house romcom Only Lovers Left Alive just received deserved praise at Cannes, and while Jordan’s work is flawed, it’s an admirable piece of cinema nevertheless. And why shouldn’t Jordan latch on at the last moment? – his 1994 take on the myth, Interview with the Vampire, is as much responsible for the vampire boom that flowed from Buffy to Twilight as any film.The film stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as a wandering mother/daughter vampire team, Clara and Eleanor, constantly on the move to evade those who would uncover their true identities, and those who already know it. A moral pair, they work as sort of Angels of Death, only feeding on the terminally ill or the extremely elderly – a form of vampiric euthanasia. Clara, eternally voluptuous, trades on her body to keep the duo in housing and out of trouble. Eleanor, eternally 16, searches for meaning in her never-ending life, tortured internally by the things she has seen and done.

Their wanderings bring them full circle to the sleepy English seaside town where their story began some 150 years earlier, prompting a series of fractured flashbacks that give us a glimpse into their pasts. Clara’s being condemned to imprisonment in a brothel in her earlier life is echoed as she turns a run-down hotel in the present, named Byzantium, into a whorehouse with herself as madam. Eleanor starts at a new school where her creative writing assignments draw suspicious glances and her relationship with sickly classmate Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) causes her cursed heart to skip a beat.

A gorgeous production, shot in some curious locations, Byzantium looks as good as anything Neil Jordan has made before. Ever-reliable cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Hunger, Shame) excels in lighting the dark and murky streets of modern Britain, while sadly bringing little life to its nineteenth century counterpart. Perhaps the most in-your-face achievement of Byzantium is the remarkable varieties of ways the crew have found to light and shoot Gemma Arterton’s cleavage. Jordan has never been one to shy away from sexuality, but here the obsession with Arterton’s bosom is beyond distracting, the centre point of far too many frames. In one of the film’s most dramatic sequences, a vampire’s birth is heralded by a Shining-like cascade of blood, in which Arterton bathes, her cleavage overflowing with blood. Her cups literally runneth over. In spite of scene-stealing competition from her cleavage, Arterton holds much of the film together with an impressively committed performance. Ronan is ever reliable as a disenfranchised youth, and her sighs and longing glances carry her character’s tragedy. Sadly, she remains utterly unconvincing in romantic roles, and paired with the zombified Jones, sporting a Danish (?) accent that is baffling to the ears, makes for some very awkward drama. Johnny Lee Miller minces amusingly as the Victorian villain, while Control’s Sam Riley is horrendously underutilised in a supporting role.

Child of the night: Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor

Child of the night: Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor

One of Byzantium’s great saving graces is its lightly sketched mythology, introducing its vampires as an underground cabal of male vampires who do not approve of females amongst their ranks, and forbid them to be makers. The idea of an ancient sect of fundamentalist chauvinists throws up cute allusions to the Catholic Church, although despite their intimidating presence it is hard to suppress a guffaw when they introduce themselves as ‘The Pointed Nails of Justice’.

Lovely to look at for the most part, adequately acted and with an impressive score by Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth), Byzantium will not be one of Jordan’s best remembered films, but it is a welcome return to the gothic for the Irish filmmaker. While the ending feels rushed and features one excessively under-explained character reversal, there is enough in the film to keep the attention throughout.

A mobile phone vibrating in a puddle of blood, for example. There’s something we haven’t seen before.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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