Thursday, June 30, 2022

Madonna: Truth or Dare. A Review (Review #1603)

 


MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE

Few pop stars have been as loved and hated in equal measure as Madonna Louise Ciccone. Madonna: Truth or Dare chronicles her Blonde Ambition Tour, though whether it was meant to positively or negatively portray our fair diva is left to the viewer.

Traversing from the rainy season in Japan down to the North American and European legs of her tour, Madonna shares her insights in voiceover on various issues ranging from her "emotionally crippled" backup singers and dancers to how displeased she is that Kevin Costner thinks her show was "neat". There are the various difficulties technical and otherwise: from heavy rains in Japan that she was unaware of or prudish Toronto police threatening arrest to the Pope finding her mockery of Catholic ritual objectionable.

As she tours around the world, from London to the Bay, apparently nothing is off-limits, much to the irritation of her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty. I figure sometime during the Blonde Ambition Tour they broke up, because during Truth or Dare she is open about planning to seduce Spanish actor Antonio Banderas. Unfortunately for our temptress, "Antonio Bandaras" as she calls him was then happily married. As the tour ends, she bids farewell to her ersatz family, the mother who must let her children fly.

To say Madonna has a healthy ego is an understatement. Few people would think twice before almost gleefully discussing their seduction plans only to dismiss said subjects of seduction as having a small penis when they fail in their conquests. I am somewhat puzzled by how someone who shrewd in managing their image would at times have no issue coming across as vain to vapid.

At times, I got the sense that she was performing, fully aware that cameras were recording. As such, she had to play "diva". Somehow, despite what is meant as a behind-the-scenes glimpse, I never shook off the sense that she was showing us what she wanted us to see versus what really was.

Even if Madonna wanted to be open about her life, calling her metaphorical children "emotionally crippled" or being somewhat dismissive of a former friend's near-naked plea for help does not make her look good. At times, Truth or Dare is a bit cringe-inducing. Moira McFarland, the childhood friend fallen on hard times, asks the Material Girl to be her latest child's godmother. From what I saw and remember, Madonna's noncommittal response suggests a woman who sees her former friend as more a bother than a person.

To be fair, Madonna does appear to let her guard down at times. During one of the truth or dare games she plays, her immediate and somewhat mournful response of "Sean" when asked who the love of her life was suggests that despite the misery that she and Sean Penn put themselves and each other through, she still would not trade it for anything.

Maybe trade it for erasing all copies of Shanghai Surprise, but who is to say.

She also appears to be a loving, even protective daughter to her father Tony, leading a mass singing of Happy Birthday when she performs in her hometown of Detroit and joyfully irritated that he wonders if she can get him and his wife tickets to a show.

As for the now-infamous moment of her visit to her mother's grave, I did not think it was as ridiculous as it has been reported. It was a bit peculiar her lying next to the gravesite, but I do not mock people for mourning their parent in their own way.

Truth or Dare splits sequences between black-and-white for the non-concert footage and full-blown color for her various performances. For me, it does make me wonder what a full concert film would have been like. It is clear Madonna is proud of her show. This is clear when her anger erupts over technical issues, though how her frequency is different from that of her emotionally crippled backup singers I can't guess at.

As a side note, I do not know why that phrase, "emotionally crippled", has stuck with me, though to be fair I do not remember if she thought it was her backup singers or dancers who got this peculiar title.

If you see her perform such hits as Holiday, Vogue and Express Yourself, you will be entertained. I found this version of Like a Virgin a bit silly versus erotic, though I find the idea of anyone flopping about on a bed more hilarious than titillating. 

However, Truth or Dare is not about Madonna's concert tour. It is a portrait of the artist as a diva. Warren Beatty appears both perplexed and irritated by how incessant the cameras are and how she is almost maniacally going along with the chronicling. "She doesn't want to live off-camera, much less talk", he observes. It suggests he wonders not only why Madonna wants everything documented but also whether the documentation is to showcase her own sense of brilliance.

There is only one moment that I can remember her not allowing cameras in. To me, it was a minor point over a technical issue early on during the tour. For reasons I cannot guess at, this was more detrimental to her image than seeing her perform fellatio on a water bottle. 

Perhaps I did not end up thinking much about Madonna: Truth or Dare because I had seen Julie Brown's spoof Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful long before I saw the object of Brown's mockery. That take was intentionally hilarious and succeeded wildly in that department. Whether or not you think Madonna: Truth or Dare is also intentionally hilarious or not I leave to viewers. For myself, I found the concert scenes more revealing than the backstage scenes.

DECISION: C-

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Adventures of Prince Achmed: A Review

 

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED

Animation has evolved greatly in the nearly hundred years between The Adventures of Prince Achmed and Lightyear, though the latter has shown that story still trumps visuals. The Adventures of Prince Achmed, remarkably short, still gives us some beautiful images even if it can get a touch repetitive.

The film is made up of five Acts. An African sorcerer goes to Bagdad to present his latest creation: a flying horse. The Caliph is impressed but cannot persuade the sorcerer to present it as a gift. For what would the sorcerer sell it for? 

For the beautiful Princess Dinarsade, who is already married to the long-lost Aladdin (though we do not learn that until later in the film). The Caliph is horrified, and her brother Prince Achmed is equally appalled. Nevertheless, the Prince agrees to ride the flying horse.

Bad idea, for the horse takes him far off, away from Court and to the island of Wak-Wak. From here, Achmed falls in love with the beautiful Pari Banu, Queen of Wak-Wak. The sorcerer, however, will not be denied. Magically escaping the Caliph's prison, he finds Achmed and Pari Banu, abducting the latter to sell to the Chinese Emperor.

Achmed now must fly to China and later to other parts of the world, aided by Aladdin and a good witch, to ultimately defeat the sorcerer and save Pari Banu.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed, in a technic sense, is a lost film. The version we have now is put together from surviving elements of the original German film. However, Prince Achmed as it stands now has some beautiful animation. It was a painstaking process, as it is not a hand-drawn animated film, but one made up by silhouettes. I do think that the sequences involving Aladdin's genie are hand-drawn, or at least look so visually splendid and original that it puts more recent animated films to shame.

Again, there are some beautiful sequences in Prince Achmed, complimented by Wolfgang Zeller's score. The wizard's duel between the witch and the sorcerer is visually impressive.

As a side note, one can imagine that the makers of The Sword in the Stone drew inspiration from the battle between good and evil.

The color elements, such as blue for night or yellow for China, add more beauty to the film. Granted, perhaps portraying China in yellow could come across as perhaps stereotypical, though I think it was not an intentionally insensitive decision. Perhaps a poor one from today's perspective, but it does not take away from its overall beauty.

Same goes for the African sorcerer. It does look now a bad decision to make the villain African, but again I cannot say for certain that there was any malicious intention. 

The story, while fantastical, at times does feel repetitive. How often can Pari Maru be abducted? There are times that make one wonder if Prince Achmed could be shown to children. When he first arrives in Wak-Wak, Prince Achmed is all but cavorting with a bevy of beauties, all of whom desire to devour him. It's pretty risqué for the times.

Children, I imagine, will also be put off by both the lack of speaking and the German subtitles. I would argue though that Prince Achmed is not made for children. If anything, it would be for families or even adults. 

Fantastical, visually splendid, and with a beautiful score, The Adventures of Prince Achmed should be better known separate from it being the oldest known surviving animated film. Credit to writer/director Lotte Reiniger in crafting this film, blending art and adventure in an elegant package. While the film will probably find more viewers interested in either film history or artistic endeavors, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is still a nice distraction from larger but empty animated films.

DECISION: B+

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Elvis (2022): A Review

 


ELVIS

Elvis Presley casts a giant shadow over America. He's such a monumental figure in the culture that even those who have never seen any of his films or heard any of his songs know who he is. His home, Graceland, is the second most-visited estate after the White House. Impersonators abound, forever keeping the memory of The King alive. As such, no film could be expected to capture all of Presley's life. Elvis does not, and it does showcase all the glitz and opulence of his persona. However, the lead's star-making turn, along with a brash production elevate it to rousing entertainment.

Narrated by Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), Elvis recounts the life and career of Elvis Presley, this poor white Southern boy who unlike most of his peers, grew up around black people. Intrigued by both the secular blues music and the sacred gospel music around him, Presley absorbed these genres along with the more traditional country music of the white community in that musical hodgepodge known as Memphis, Tennessee. 

Colonel Parker, carnival snowman (a conman really), is enthralled with the fact that this white boy can sing like a black man. He sees in Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) the idea crossover figure, one who will make him a great deal of money. Presley, determined to provide for his parents, agrees to make Colonel Parker his manager. From there, Parker leads his client into massive (albeit controversial) success, with merchandising, movies and live concerts.

Presley wants more for his own personal life, but Colonel Parker has a way of stopping things like world tours or better film roles. The reasons are not just financial, but personal. Ultimately though, despite being old enough to be his father, Colonel Parker outlives The King, but lives long enough to see that Elvis is eternal and loved, while he is mortal and reviled.

Elvis has as its major plus the central role played by Austin Butler. Butler has it all in his portrayal of Presley. He has the physicality down: the snarl, the gyrations, the voice, none of which feel like mimicry or spoof. Butler does more than capture Presley's on-stage persona. In the few moments where Elvis is allowed to be soft and still, Butler reveals the tragedy, hurt, anger and fear Presley faced. His best moments are when Presley is human, frail. In his devastation on his mother Gladys' (Heather Thomson) death. In how he expresses his regrets about his life and loss of the male lead in the Streisand version of A Star is Born, Buter shows us the full range of this man. It is an exceptional performance, and if he does not become a star with both Elvis and the upcoming Dune: Part II, it'll be one of the most shocking turns ever.

Not that Butler skimp when it comes to the concert scenes. He unleashes the wild, uninhibited man who just does what his body wants him to do. There's an almost ferocious manner to his stage performances, even when Presley has become sadly corpulent and almost a parody of himself. Both on stage and behind the scenes, Austin Butler does what once was thought impossible: he outacts Tom Hanks.

To be fair, it is not that Hanks wasn't trying, but the script went overboard in making Colonel Parker into a cartoonish villain. A good villain never knows he is a villain. More often than not, the villain believes he is either merely smarter than everyone else or that he is actually doing good (mostly for him/herself). As played by Hanks, however, Colonel Parker knows Colonel Parker is EVIL, to where he was a mustache short of twirling.

The presumably Dutch accent and theatrical manner, however, do not help. While Elvis drops hints that Colonel Parker is in reality an illegal alien and not the man from West Virginia as he claims, Elvis never has that fact fully formed. As he totters around, hamming it up for all its worth, the sight of the evil Colonel Tom Parker in a Christmas sweater forever demanding Presley sing Here Comes Santa Claus is almost comical. This performance will probably be the nadir of Hanks' career with perhaps only his villainous turn in The Ladykillers giving it a run for his money.

It's curious that Hanks, who built his career and own persona as the most loveable of Americans, flounders when playing a truly villainous role. 

I do not think it is all Hanks' fault, though he bears a great deal of the blame. I think it is because director Baz Luhrmann (who cowrote the script with Sam Bromell, Craig Pierce and Jeremy Doner) were more interested in the flash and glitz of Presley's persona. To be fair, Luhrmann did capture a lot of that mythic Presley stage magic: the Las Vegas concerts shot in the same manner of the Presley concert documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is

In terms of costuming and theatrics, Elvis does Elvis proud. However, sometimes less is more, and Elvis might have done better to focus on Presley the man versus Presley the showman. As so much focus is on the entertainer, we get little from Presley's wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), who is in very few scenes to where she was essentially not important to the story. 

Other performances such as Thomson as Gladys were strong, but it is a shame that Kelvin Harrison Jr.'s B.B. King or Yola's Sister Rosetta Tharpe just popped in and out. 

Despite the weakness of the script and an uncharacteristically bad Tom Hanks performance, Elvis will please Presley fans. With a star-making performance from Austin Butler, grand staging and a sympathetic portrait of Presley, Elvis is a film that loves The King tender.

1935-1977

DECISION: B-

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Spiderhead: A Review (Review #1600)


SPIDERHEAD

The past few years has given us the mantra of "trust the science". Spiderhead, for its part, makes the case that science can still run amok, and that human frailty can still bring destruction on itself.

Jeff (Miles Teller) is serving a sentence for a crime that resulted from his irresponsible actions. However, he and other inmates at the Spiderhead facility have an extraordinary amount of freedom, almost Scandanavian. Why? They have agreed to be guinea pigs for new drugs overseen by Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), who gives them various mood-altering chemicals whenever they acknowledge consent.

There's G-46/Laffodil, which causes the subject to laugh even when told of tragedy. N-40 or Luvactin overrides their sexual inhibitions to where arousal and sex abound. Not every chemical, however, is jolly. The most dangerous so far is Darkenfloxx, which overwhelms them with regret and anger and violence.

Jeff knows about Darkenfloxx, which is why he will not acknowledge using it on Izzy (Jurnee Smollett), the fellow inmate/cook whom he is attracted to. He does agree, very reluctantly, to its use on Heather (Tess Haubrich) with horrifying results. Here, Jeff learns the true nature of Steve Abnesti, setting off a chain of events that send the facility into eventual chaos. The truth of B-6, whose reason for being had not been revealed before, is also exposed. Abnesti dubs B-6 OBDX or Obidiex, and it becomes a desperate race to escape this mad lab.

Spiderhead, adapted from the short story Escape from Spiderhead, has some excellent ideas about the blindness of science and the greed that it can fall into. It, to be fair, does not go into new territory with its story. You have the seemingly benevolent figure, the young man taken in by a mix of regret and desire to improve, the pretty young thing who harbors a deep, dark secret.

However, director Joseph Kosinski keeps things well grounded. Of particular note is Spiderhead's aesthetic. There is a sparseness to the film, an almost clinical manner to things that keeps simple. We are not given large set pieces or large moments apart from Heather's shocking act when she accidentally is overdosing on Darkenfloxx. 

The film benefits tremendously from some of the performances. Like Kosinski, Miles Teller scores another excellent film after their triumph in Top Gun: Maverick. Jeff is a haunted figure, filled with regret and pain. It is understandable why he would agree to the experiment separate from the knowledge that participation will reduce his sentence. Teller has at times struggled in his career such as when he attempted to be a superhero in the 2015 Fantastic Four film.

However, he now is reminding us of the immense talent he showed in The Spectacular Now and Whiplash. Jeff is not a sad sack, but one who is motivated to correct what he can to the best of his abilities. Tormented but wise, hoping to free himself from the past, Teller makes Jeff a figure the audience will support. 

While their roles are smaller, both Smollett as Izzy and Haubrich as Heather hold their own. Smollett's performance shows Izzy as sensible, kind and compassionate, making the reason for her imprisonment both shocking and tragic. Heather, for her part, has moments of comedy when she acknowledges sex with Jeff via N-40 but also horrifying when she is overwhelmed with Darkenfloxx.

Rhett Rees and Paul Wernick's adaptation, however, fails when it comes to Hemsworth. From his forced pleasantness to doing an almost balletic dance to Roxy Music's More Than This, Hemsworth came across as goofy. Based on his performance, I would not blame people for thinking that Spiderhead was a comedy. I cannot take seriously a villain who is worried that that Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley and Morley Safer will all expose his actions, unaware that they are all dead.

The music does not help. I do not mean the score, but the myriad of pop songs that populate Spiderhead. I do not know why Thomas Dolby's She Blinded Me with Science had to start pumping out near what is meant as a serious moment. It took away from the seriousness that Spiderhead wants to push. The film has a lot of songs that somehow got in the way. So did a running gag with a feces-obsessed inmate that is revealed at what is meant as the climatic escape.

This brings Spiderhead down, as does the various drug names. Laffodil for laughter. Luvactin for wild sex. Darkenfloxx for despair. Phobica for creating irrational fear. Obidiex for total control. Inadvertently or not, Spiderhead reminded me of Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy. That film also used a pharmaceutical company whose product appeared first benevolent but ended destructive. Even the drug's name is meant to be funny: Gleemonex. Spiderhead's curious drug names are both too on-the-nose and unintentionally hilarious. 

This, along with a weak ending, bring Spiderhead down. However, there is just enough to make Spiderhead worth a look. 

DECISION: C-

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Sins of Daedalus Review

 

DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 
THE SINS OF DAEDALUS

It says a lot about medieval Italy when an invading Ottoman armada is one of the lesser problems they face. The Sins of Daedalus, which closes out Season Two of Da Vinci's Demons, packs in a lot with excellent results. Thrilling, sometimes shocking, it carries a lot of stories that one hopes will come to a great conclusion in Season Three.

As Florence recovers from its occupation, we find that Nico (Eros Vlahos) is a shrewd figure. No surprise, as his full name is Niccolo Machiavelli! His cleverness is needed now more than ever, as Vanessa (Hera Hilmar) finds herself as the Regnant of Florence. This is not a position she wants, preferring to retire quietly along with her new son. However, her new son is a Medici, and the only male Medici around. Clarice (Lara Pulver) has disappeared after the chaos of the occupation, and Lorenzo (Elliot Cowan) is in Naples.

Apparently, everyone else is in Naples. The battle between the Florentines Lorenzo and Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) and the joint alliance of Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) and whacked-out King Alfonso (Kieran Bew) must put aside their differences and join forces against a greater threat. The Ottoman Turks are fast sailing towards the Neapolitan kingdom, determined to begin the conquest of Europe. Bayezid (Akin Gazi), the Sultan's son, is eager to take revenge against the Pope who not only scorned him but humiliated him out of Rome. With Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock) forcibly serving as envoy, she gives the Christians the ultimatums: surrender the country to Bayezid and to Islam or else.

Leo won't take the "or else" bit lying down, and neither will the rest of them. It is as the ships begin to approach that Pietro da Vinci (David Schofield) gets the shock of his life when he looks through the spyglass. The sorceress and soothsayer serving the Sultan's son is none other than Leonardo's mother!

The Sins of Daedalus throws a great deal at us, leaving us with many loose ends. We have Vanessa as the de facto ruler of Florence, the real Pope Sixtus having left his prison, Count Riario (Blake Ritson) as the newest member of the shadowy Enemies of Man. It has so many stories flying hither and yon, yet it never loses its balance on any of them.

The pacing never lets up as The Sins of Daedalus jumps from one story to the next. From the arguing among the various Italian leaders to how Nico manages to outwit the Florentine elite with some Machiavellian maneuvering, one never feels shortchanged in terms of plots.

That, however, may not work well when it comes to the performances. No, the performances are pretty good to great. We have many strong performances all around, and even when we have smaller parts such as Sasha Behar as "the Seer" we see strong actors doing strong work. The problem is that we get little bits where they do not get enough time.

I grant that as the season finale, we have to put a lot of things and open up that third season. 

However, on the whole I found The Sins of Daedalus moved well, has strong performances and manages to leave things with enough endings to get us to a Season Three. 

9/10

Next: The Complete Second Season

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hustle (2022): A Review

 


HUSTLE

I begin my Hustle review with a confession: I know very little to nothing about basketball. All these years, I thought Dirk Nowitzki was Polish. I went to my first NBA game this year and while I enjoyed it, I also was a bit lost. I had to call my BFF and ask him not only who this "Luka" was but how to pronounce his last name. I figured he was talented given his jerseys and t-shirts were all around me. It was so to where I bought a Doncic t-shirt with only the vaguest idea who he is. As such, Hustle is probably geared more towards current basketball fans than to people like me. However, the story more than makes up for any gaps I had over the myriad of NBA cameos that the film has.

Philadelphia 76er international scout Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) yearns to be a coach both to move up career wise and to stay closer to his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and daughter Alex (Jordan Hull). The new 76er owner Vince Merrick (Ben Foster) however, is not sold on Sugerman being at court unless he finds him a big talent to revive the team's fortune.

Stan thinks he has when he finds Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez), a Spanish construction worker and street basketball hustler. Stan sees Bo has the raw talent and physicality to be in the NBA. However, Bo also has both no real experience and anger issues. Despite having no backing from Vin, Stan brings Bo to America to train in order to be looked over for a potential career. Bo has to leave his mother and daughter behind to pursue this unlikely goal. He also has to endure the taunts of Kermit Wilts (Anthony Edwards), the basketball phenom who has a long amateur record to make him into an All-Star. 

Bo flounders a bit with scouts, his inexperience and anger getting in the way. However, with some social media savvy from Alex and a little help from figures like NBA legend Julius "Dr. J." Erving, both Bo and Stan may reach the NBA together, if separately.

As I watched Hustle, I gave it the nickname My Fair Luka since in some ways, the film reminded me of My Fair Lady. Here is the older mentor who will take the common street person and transform him into an NBA superstar. In some ways, Hustle does not break the mold when it comes to inspirational sports stories. You have the said older mentor, the younger talent, the training montages, the antagonists, and a triumphant victory for both.

That being said, one can see Hustle knew it was staying within certain confines and used them to its advantages. It does stretch believability that Stan would come upon a major talent almost by happenstance. However, as Hustle does not pretend to be above cliches, you can roll with those moments. The training montages were impressively filmed, with some excellent camera work and editing that made them visually unique and interesting. 

Hustle does best when it gives us an insider's look at the business of basketball. We see the front office meetings where various players are judged. We see the intense work the athletes go through to remain major players.

What is also good in Hustle is that most of the NBA players who appear handle the acting part well. Hernangomez is the co-lead in Hustle, and he is surprisingly strong as Bo, the street kid who is his own stumbling block. I do not think he has a career in theater when he retires, but he did make you forget that he is in real life a professional basketball player. Unlike some of the other NBA stars, Hernangomez did not stumble much when it came to line delivery. Sometimes he could be a bit stiff, but on the whole he did well.

Anthony Edwards was equally respectable as Wilts, the taunting antagonist. Granted, I was expecting Anthony Edwards the actor from Top Gun and E.R. when I saw the credits. That said, the NBA Anthony Edwards did well in his small role, though he was more saying the lines than acting them. 

Many of the cameos were handled well, though I figure those who follow the NBA would recognize the players more than I. Some cameos, like those from Allen Iverson and Luka Doncic, were almost "blink and you'll miss them". Others, like Nowitzki, were a little on the bad side. On the whole though, they were handled well.

The professional actors had some strong performances. Adam Sandler has for now left the man-child roles that propelled him to fame. His Stanley Sugerman was a driven but regretful man, one who has a passion for the game but also who is worn down by it. He finds basketball a curious mistress, but one he loves. It is a strong dramatic performance, whether it is in a delight in teasingly being hard when training Bo or revealing the tragedy that still haunts him.

Hustle unfortunately gives both Queen Latifah and Ben Foster little to do, which is a shame. In particular with Foster, you wish he would have been given more than the somewhat cliched arrogant boss who has it in for our hero role. However, Foster is an exceptional talent who does strong work with his small role. Latifah is somewhat relegated to "supportive spouse", but she is also able to hold her own when not as supportive.

Hustle is probably more for basketball fans, like Sandler, who follow the ins and outs of the sport. It however is not inaccessible to non-basketball aficionados. I did not feel left out due to how Hustle is not exclusively about basketball but about the drive to rise above where one is at. Entertaining, well-acted even by the athletes, I think both fans and haters can enjoy Hustle.

DECISION: B-

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Enemies of Man Review

 


DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 

THE ENEMIES OF MAN

As we finally arrive back in the Old World after our Incan encounter, we see that Da Vinci's Demons still goes all in on the cray-cray. The Enemies of Man brings us a bit of a downer ending and given that we're only one episode from the finale, it does not bode well to see an upbeat one.

Now that we've left the Amazon, Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) finds that things in his beloved Florence are now worse than before. The city is now in the hands of corrupt and sleazy Duke Federico (Vincent Riota). Holding Clarice de Medici (Lara Pulver) hostage, the city is in despair, thrown into chaos. How will Leo liberate his libertine city? The way to do so is not without a brutal cost, as Leo's mentor and friend must pay the ultimate price when they learn that Carlo de Medici (Ray Fearon) is the mysterious Labyrinth, who seeks revenge against the Sons of Mithras. It was Carlo, not the Abyssinian, who traveled to Macchu Pichu 

Meanwhile, Count Riario (Blake Ritson) is a man broken by guilt and emotional turmoil; he is saved from a suicide attempt after his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) mocks his pleas for spiritual forgiveness. He soon finds himself being emotionally and psychologically tortured by those who saved him, a spent and distraught figure.

In Naples, while Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) has enough time for some sexy-time with Duchess Ippolita (Jeany Sparks), he finds that King Ferrante (Matthew Marsh) is dead, leaving his equally unstable son Alfonso (Kieran Bew) as the new king. Worse, now King Alfonso remains fiercely loyal to the Pope, who seeks terms of surrender.

Perhaps it is because a lot of time has elapsed since I've seen the episodes, but I find that The Enemies of Man and the following episode are blending together. There certainly is a lot going on here, and to their credit some of the performances are simply brilliant.

At the top of that list is Ritson, who has shifted from whispering villain to a tragic figure. As Da Vinci's Demons has progressed, he has stolen the spotlight from the equally hunky Riley. I think it is due to how their characters have evolved. 

Riley's da Vinci has remained pretty much the same: cocky, arrogant, catnip to every woman he comes across. Riario, however, has evolved from a coldblooded figure into an emotionally battered one, driven by genuine desires of blind loyalty only to find that the cost of following his faith has been a high one. Thinking he was saving souls, he was instead destroying his own.

It is a wonderful thing to see, which is why I am more impressed by Ritson than by Riley. It is not that Riley has slacked off: the sight of his friend, mentor and father-figure dying before his eyes is a strong bit of acting. It is, however, that he does not have many opportunities for such displays.

I thought well of The Enemies of Man, though at times it veered close to slipping into farce. Of particular note is when we see Clarice, who looks like the medieval version of Princess Leia's slave girl from Return of the Jedi. The episode is dominated by darkness and greys, which is fitting for such a downer of an episode and the generally bleak situation. Perhaps they went a bit overboard in the portrayal of Florence as a truly desperate city, but it is not a hill I'm willing to die on.

The Enemies of Man packed in a lot of stories in its running time. I thought it was good not great, but a strong lead up to the season finale.

6/10

Next Episode: The Sins of Daedalus