“House of the Dragon” (Episode 3: “Second of His Name”)

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from Episode 3 of House of the Dragon.

Daemon and the Sea Snake battle the Crabfeeder. The realm celebrates Aegon’s second nameday. Rhaenyra faces the prospect of marriage.

There is a time jump of about 3 yrs from E2. We start w/ dark humor from the war in the Stepstones; a soldier captured by the Crabfeeder, hoping for salvation from Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), is crushed under the foot of his big/red/long-necked dragon, Caraxes. This fight isn’t about the “common-born,” it’s ALL about Daemon (who seeks glory for himself). He was exiled from court in E2; he and soldiers loyal to him have been trying to get control of these islands for 3 yrs. The Small Council debates sending some men to back-up the prince.

Princess Rhaenyra [to her father when they arrive at the camp site]: No one’s here for me.

Then it’s time to have a (hunting) party, thanks to your host- Lord Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall- note that his name is in the opening credits). Hall also plays Ser Tyland Lannister (Jason’s twin w/ shorter hair), who is the Master of Ships, after Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint) quit by storming out of the Small Council meeting in E2. Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Queen Alicent (Emily Carey) aren’t close friends anymore, as we see in the garden scene. (When Rhaenyra told the minstrel, Samwell, to repeat his song, I was reminded of the “play it again, Sam” line from Casablanca.) The nobles are excited to celebrate the 2nd b-day of Prince Aegon; he’s the blonde/healthy son born to King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and his young wife. Alicent is now (heavily) pregnant w/ their 2nd child.

Lord Hobert Hightower: Hail, hail Aegon the Conqueror-Babe, Second of His Name! Here’s to His Grace on his second name day!

George R.R. Martin regretted that there wasn’t enough money to have a royal hunt in S1 of GoT; he is V happy w/ this ep. We see the grandeur of the nobles, there are MANY extras present, and (of course) there is the beauty of nature. Rhaenyra is feeling left out and perhaps acting like a typical teen girl, which frustrates her father (who wants some pleasant/outdoors/family time). Rhaenyra can’t even keep from sniping at the noble ladies when she comes into their circle. Here w/ the ladies, we also have Larys Strong (Matthew Needham- also listed in the opening credits); he’s the 2nd son of Lord Harwin Strong (Gavin Spokes) and has a clubfoot. As he can’t go out sporting w/ the men, Larys can soak up ALL the hot gossip from the ladies.

Lord Jason Lannister: I’d do anything for my queen… or lady wife.

Lord Jason tries to run his game on Rhaenyra, offering her “honey wine” (from Lannisport), then declaring that Casterly Rock (his home) is large enough for a dragon pit. His style of speech/prideful manner MAY remind some viewers of the wealthy/entitled men in Austen’s books (who feel that every single lady should find them a catch). For a moment, Rhaenyra is confused, BUT then realizes that he’s talking marriage! Ser Otto stops her and her father from having a shouting match inside the royal tent, in full view of MANY guests/servants. The princess is pissed off and rides off on her horse, w/ her loyal protector Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) following close behind.

King Viserys Targaryen [to Otto]: I came here to hunt. Not to be suffocated by all this f*****g politicking!

It’s obvious that MOST of the nobles expect the king to name Aegon as his heir, surpassing his daughter. Viserys thinks it’s high time that Rhaenyra was married; he has been “besieged” w/ proposals from ALL over Westeros recently. In the past, she’d shown no interest in marrying or having children, BUT (as heir to the Iron Throne) she’ll have responsibilities. As he stands by a huge bonfire, Viserys (who had been drinking heavily ALL day) wonders IF he made the right decision; Alicent gently tells him it’s late (so he should rest).

Out in the woods, Rhaenyra and Criston get some time to walk and chat; she asks him re: his life (before he became a knight). Later that evening, she still doesn’t want to go back to the camp, so they relax (he w/o armor on) around a fire; a boar suddenly attacks and knocks out Criston! The boar then runs toward Rhaenyra, who fights him off, before Criston stabs it. Then, Rhaenyra rises up and unleashes her rage/resentment upon the animal MANY times w/ her knife.

The king takes his new/decorative spear (a gift from Lord Jason) and kills a large/brown stag, which was captured/held by few nobles. It takes him 2 tries, as Viserys is hungover and weak; this is yet another (pathetic) scene where we see that he’s NOT cut out for his role. Now, this animal isn’t the “white hart” that Otto explained was a good omen to see on one’s b-day. That white stag comes along Rhaenyra’s path, BUT she stops Criston from killing it (showing her mercy/character). When she struts back to camp (messy/bloodied) w/ the boar dragging behind her, there is at one man- Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr)- who gives her a wicked smile/looks impressed. Back at home in King’s Landing, the king tells Rhaenyra that she MUST marry, BUT the man can be her choice!

The last 10 mins. of the ep is an (incredible) fight on a beach btwn Daemon and a slew of Triarchy warriors lead by the Crabfeeder. Daemon pretends that he is ready to surrender, waving a white flag, and offering up his sword. (I was surprised/confused for a few moments.) Of course, this is the type of man (Targaryen) who will NOT give up easily! Daemon fights w/ and kills MANY men, then (finally) defeats the Crabfeeder himself (who didn’t have any dialogue/was killed offscreen in the cave). A LOT of viewers loved this segment, BUT a few thought that it was unrealistic. The prince emerges w/ the torso of his dead enemy, hair a mess of tangles, and covered head-to-toe in blood- wow!

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” (Episodes 1 & 2)

Epic drama set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-Earth. -Synopsis from Amazon Prime

Episode 1: A Shadow of the Past

Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is disturbed by signs of an ancient evil’s return. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) makes an unsettling discovery. Elrond (Robert Aramayo) is presented with an intriguing new venture. Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) breaks a deeply held community rule. -Synopsis from Amazon Prime

This show (which started streaming on SEPT 1st on Amazon Prime) is the MOST expensive ever made! Much money was spent on getting the rights to some appendices written by J.R.R. Tolkien. The showrunners (J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay) are relative newcomers to Hollywood; they’re long-time friends (and fans of Tolkien) who grew up in religious households in the DC suburbs. J.A. Bayona is a Spanish film director who made the films: The Orphanage (2007), The Impossible (2012), A Monster Calls (2016), and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He directed the 1st 2 eps of this show. There will be other directors also at the helm of future eps. I’m a BIT of a “late bloomer” when it comes to the fantasy genre. I loved the LOTR movies (which I was re-watched recently) and think The Hobbit trilogy had some good parts, too.

The story starts out w/ a narration of past events, NOT unlike what was heard in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In Middle-Earth, an evil being, Morgoth, was defeated before the current time period (the Second Age). Sauron (briefly seen in that spiky helmet/imposing armor, as in Peter Jackson’s trilogy) is somewhere out there. As most creatures don’t live as long as elves, they’ve come to forget Sauron/his dark magic. As a child, Galadriel looks up to her older brother, Finrod (Will Fletcher). Years later, she is a “commander” leading a group of elves as they hunt for Sauron (after a long war which left MANY elves dead). Galadriel explains that she has searched for hundreds of yrs; those under her command are almost ready to give up. The High King, Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), calls Galadriel back from the North; he declares that it’s time for peace. Galadriel tells Elrond (now in role of a “herald”) that she is NOT ready to stop fighting. Elrond cares for Galadriel; they have friendly banter.

We meet several original characters (OCs) who are NOT in Tolkien’s works. The Harfoots (meaning “hard of foot”) are ancient Hobbits; they’re migratory creatures who believe in community and staying out of the concerns of others. Eleanor “Nori” Brandyfoot and her friend Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) come upon a Stranger (Daniel Weyman). The characters seen in the Southlands are also OCs. A Sylvan elf, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), and his company of elves have been in this region for MANY yrs. There are several types of elves (as some of you may’ve recalled from LOTR). Legolas is a Sindarin Elf from the Woodland Realm of Northern Mirkwood. His father, Thranduil, is the King of the Silvan Elves living in that realm, making Legolas the Prince of Mirkwood. Haldir is guard of the borders of Lothlórien and guides the Fellowship while they are in his forest. We also meet a single mom/healer, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and her teen son, Theo (Tyro Muhafidin). The people of this community are NOT friendly to elves; we will learn why that is so.

This ep was quite slow, which will put off those viewers who were expecting the show to start out w/ a bang. There is one action scene, BUT it happens quickly (and some viewers thought it was unrealistic). I thought that the scenery (S1 was shot in New Zealand), CGI, music, and costumes were interesting. I wasn’t blown away w/ any aspect, BUT will continue to watch. I really hope the dialogue gets a LOT better! Some viewers (active on Twitter, YT, or on podcasts) are discussing who the Stranger could be.

Episode 2: Adrift

Galadriel finds a new ally. Elrond faces a cold reception from an old friend. Nori endeavors to help a Stranger. Arondir searches for answers while Bronwyn warns her people of a threat. -Synopsis from Amazon Prime

Elrond travels to another region (Eregion) and meets w/ Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), a master smith among the High Elves. In the near future, Celebrimbor plans to “create something great,” BUT needs help to build a giant forge. Elrond goes to Khazad-Dun and meets w/ an old friend, Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), thinking that perhaps dwarves can contribute. The music used for the dwarves is really cool! We get to see the kingdom of the dwarves at its height (unlike the ruin that it was in LOTR). We see how the relationship is between elves and dwarves. We learn that Durin’s wife, Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvette), has a bubbly personality. King Durin III (Peter Mullan- a Scottish veteran character actor) appears briefly; I’m curious to know more about him.

The Southlands could be facing a great threat; Arondir goes to check out a nearby town (and Bronwyn joins him). Theo had found a broken weapon under his house, from which comes whispers (maybe Black Speech); he keeps it hidden from his mom. There MAY be other dangers lurking! This ep raises the action; there are 2 action-oriented scenes which MAY be scary for younger audiences.

Galadriel ends up in the middle of the ocean; she had decided NOT to go to Valinor (Heaven for the elves). She comes upon a rickety raft w/ a small group of humans who are dirty, tired, and angry. They’d recently been attacked- we soon see from what exactly. After facing more threats on the water, Galadriel and one man, Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), come out as survivors. They will have to trust and rely on each other now; they face a violent storm! Some viewers think that Halbrand will turn out to be Sauron (in disguise); others think he’ll be like Aragorn (a reluctant hero and future king). Hmmm… keep on watching to find out more!

“Berlin Express” (1948) starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Corvin, & Paul Lukas

Trapped on a Train of Terror! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

In a divided Germany (shortly after WWII), passengers from several nations are on a train heading to an international conference. Lucienne (Merle Oberon) is a French secretary who catches the eye of almost every man on the train. Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas) is Lucienne’s German employer. Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan) is an American working for the Dept. of Agriculture. Perrot (Charles Corvin) is a French businessman. Sterling (Robert Coote) is an Englishman. Lt. Maxim Kirosilov is young Soviet soldier. When one of these passengers (working for peace) is kidnapped in Berlin, the others set aside their differences/work together to find him. Would you risk your life to help a stranger, IF it was for the good of the world?

Narrator: [voiceover] That’s right – the dove of peace was a pigeon. A dead pigeon.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, also directed the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). The cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, was married to Oberon; he came up w/ a lighting technique which hid the scars on Oberon’s face. Cary Grant and John Garfield were considered for roles in this film. This is the 1st Hollywood production in Germany after WWII. The crew was the 1st to receive permission to film in Berlin’s Soviet zone. At the time of production, Berlin was divided into 4 separate sectors, controlled by the English, French, Soviet (now Russian), and American armed forces. American soldiers stationed at the I. G. Farben munitions building in Salzburg, left untouched during bombing raids (so the U.S. could use it as an occupation HQ), appeared in the film as extras.

Perrot: What chance has a European got with an American around?

Lindley: I’m afraid you overestimate us.

Perrot: Huh, not at all. How can we compete with your American charm, your chocolate…

Sterling: Your soap?

Perrot: Your cigarettes?

Lindley: Well, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Berlin Express is categorized as a crime drama, film noir, and thriller. It’s an unusual movie for its time; it has an international cast (before that became common) and was filmed on location (in rare/unexpected places). I rarely guessed what was going to happen next! I esp. liked the friendly banter between the 3 men (Lindley, Perrot, and Sterling) who seek the attention of Lucienne (who is NOT easily impressed). Each man has a different personality; it’s refreshing that they behave like gentlemen (instead of pushy jerks). Ryan is looking youngish/handsome and gets to show his charm/confidence in a (rare) good guy role. I’m NOT going to say much more; check this movie out! You can rent it on YouTube.

[1] Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.

[2] Filmed in the rubble of German cities in 1946 this film, basically is a very good and constantly weaving espionage drama; and not unlike NORTH BY NORTHWEST in deception, missing persons, terrific set pieces in ruins and epic visuals of genuine locations. Robert Ryan as the US everyman, all casual but tough, Merle Oberon gives ze Fronnch occent a good go, and a solid cast enjoying a provocative script.

[3] Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged, particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but the real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of Berlin and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the characters adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“I Walk Alone” starring Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, & Wendell Corey

Two things I can handle baby… guns and dames! -A tagline for the movie

Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster- one of my faves since I was a kid) returns to NYC after 14 yrs in prison. Noll Turner (Kirk Douglas), Frankie’s former partner in bootlegging, is now a successful nightclub manager/owner. Frankie is expecting him to honor a verbal “50-50” agreement they made before he was caught; Noll luckily got away. The two men’s friend, Dave (Wendell Corey), is the bookkeeper at the club. The club’s singer is Kay Lawrence (Lizabeth Scott); she is also Noll’s L/T gf. Mrs. Alexis Richardson (Kristine Miller) is the society lady w/ her eye on Noll.

Alexis: You know, you’re quite an attractive man.

Frankie: Keep goin’.

Alexis: How far do you want me to go?

Frankie: I’m at the plate. You’re doing the pitching.

This movie has great dialogue; the screenplay was written by Charles Schnee from a play by Theodore Reeves (The Beggars Are Coming to Town). Some viewers have called it a BIT “too wordy.” Schnee also wrote the screenplay for a must-see film noir, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), which also starred Douglas. The director, Byron Haskin, worked his way up from commercial movie photographer to cameraman, then became an assistant director (AD) at Selznick Pictures. Haskin was a cinematographer in the silent era; he helped develop the tech that brought sound to the film industry. He began directing in the late 1920s at Warner Bros. Haskin made Disney’s 1st live-action film, Treasure Island (1950).

Alexis: [in Noll grabbing her by the arm] You’re hurting me.

Noll: And you love it.

As the hosts on Out of the Podcast commented: “You can tell everyone is young and hungry in this one.” This is Lancaster’s 5th film at age 33; the actor (6’2″ tall/classically handsome) started out as an acrobat, which explains his strong physical presence. He can fight (and make it look believable), as we see in this movie! Douglas (5’9″ w/ a striking face) came from the theater world and studied The Method; this is his 4th film at age 30. It MAY seem strange to some viewers to see Douglas as a villain; this was the case in his early roles. This is the 1st of 7 movies that Lancaster and Douglas made together; they also became close pals.

Noll [to Kay]: Sure, that’s why men take women to dinner – to have someone to talk about themselves to.

The husky-voiced Scott (who is NOT the most confident/versatile actor) raises her game here, perhaps b/c she is cast opposite (future) Hollywood heavyweights. Scott acted w/ Lancaster and Corey in Desert Fury (a weird movie, BUT may interest noir-istas). Frankie and Kay have strong romantic chemistry; Lancaster looks at Scott in a sweet/gentle way. Kay’s songs were NOT sung by Scott; her voice was dubbed. I loved ALL of Kay’s outfits (chosen by Edith Head); they are classy and seductive. Check this movie out!

[1] It’s the kind of movie where the stars are more memorable than the story.

Scott and Douglas, for example, really shine. Scott does some of the best acting of her career as the conflicted glamour girl. But I especially like Douglas’s slimy version of a smooth-talking mastermind who’s so self-assured, you can’t wait to see him get what he’s got coming.

[2] There’s a lot to like in the film- particularly the acting. In addition, the camera-work is great, as is the beating scene… The street scenes late in the film had a great use of shadows- a film noir trademark.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Spoiler-Free Review: “House of the Dragon” (Episode 1: “The Heirs of the Dragon”)

Lords, ladies, knights, high-born, or common-born- MANY of us were hotly anticipating this (prequel) show to Game of Thrones (GoT)! As many critics/fans/casual viewers commented, GoT was the last “water cooler” show in recent yrs. With almost 10M viewers, this ep was the MOST watched series premiere in HBO’s history; the HBO Max app crashed that SUN night (so I had to wait to see it on the following MON). The ep’s title is taken from the chapter’s name in the book Fire & Blood (by George R. R. Martin) on which the show is based. Are any of y’all book readers (as I’d like to know your opinions also)? This time, David Benioff and Dan Weiss are NOT involved (take a long sigh of relief, if you need)! The showrunners here are an American- Ryan J. Condal (who met w/ Martin 8+ yrs ago; they became pals and collaborators)- and British director Miguel Sapochnik (who worked on some of the highest-rated/most action-packed eps of GoT). There was some breaking news tonight: Sapochnik will NOT return as co-showrunner for S2. Alan Taylor will be taking over; he also worked on GoT.

As w/ GoT, you’ll meet MANY characters, BUT the main conflict arises from the (platinum blonde) individuals who are part of the same (Targaryen) family who lived nearly 200 yrs before Daenerys. Before King Jaeharys died, he held a High Council meeting where a 1,000 lords decided on who should be his successor on the Iron Throne. It came down to one woman, Rhaenys (Eve Best), and her (male) cousin, Viserys. Unsurprisingly, the lords chose Viserys; a woman has never sat on the Iron Throne. Will he be a good (effective) king to his people? Now, in the 9th yr of his reign, King Viserys (Paddy Considine- a British character actor), still doesn’t have a direct male heir (son). He has ONLY one child w/ his loving wife/cousin, Aemma (Sian Brooke), a 14 y.o. daughter named Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock- a newcomer from Australia). She is observant, intelligent, w/ a rebellious streak; some viewers thought of her as a mix of Arya and Daenerys from GoT. She has a dragon that she loves to ride; dragons are a part of this world (much more than in GoT). Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish- a Scottish character actor from The Hobbit and Outlander) is the bodyguard (one of the 7 in the Kingsguard) to Rhaenyra. Lately, the girl is concerned for her mother, as she is close to giving birth.

Rhaenyra’s best friend, Lady Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey- the young Diana in Wonder Woman), is red-headed, reserved, and lady-like. Some were reminded of Sansa (in early seasons of GoT) when they watched Alicent. Her father, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans- a Welsh character actor), is the Hand of the King; he keeps things close to the vest. Rhaenyra also has an affinity w/ her uncle/Viserys’ younger brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith- star of Doctor Who and The Crown). They speak together in High Valyrian (which adds to their closeness); he gives her a necklace made of Valyrian steel (as we saw in one of the promo pics). Daemon (an unabashed rebel of the family) seems to be popular w/ commoners; they call him “The Prince of the City.” He is commander of the City Watch (AKA Gold Cloaks) and the (unofficial) heir to the Iron Throne. (FYI: The throne has a different/more intimidating look than in GoT). We also get to meet the members of the king’s Small Council, which incl. Otto, Daemon (who never attends), Grand Maester Mellos (David Horovitch), Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), Lord Lyman Beesbury (Bill Patterson- veteran Scottish character actor recently in Fleabag), and Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) AKA the Sea Snake/Rhaenys’ husband. The Velaryons are an even older family than the Targaryens in Westeros, BUT they don’t ride dragons (they’re known for sailing expertise). Lord Corlys (a Black man in this adaptation) is the richest man in Westeros; he and Rhaenys have the (rare) love marriage.

King Viserys is happy and confident, feeling that Aemma will give birth to a boy V soon! Instead of worrying about potential threats to the kingdom (as Lord Corlys describes), he turns his attention to a grand tourney to celebrate his heir. Lords and ladies from ALL over the realm come to watch knights from various houses/backgrounds joust, conduct business, and share gossip. We see colorful/decorative heraldry (which is something Martin noted was missing from GoT). It looks like each of these knights has a slightly different design to his armor. One of the knights, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel- an actor of French, British, and Indian heritage), wears slightly tarnished armor; he is common-born, BUT a strong fighter. Daemon (also a great fighter) has the MOST fancy/decorative armor (incl. a helmet w/ dragon-shaped wings). Some reviewers (YT; podcasts) compared the fighting to that of Ridley Scott’s recent medieval drama- The Last Duel. I thought the same, through I think this show is more bloody! There probably isn’t much that’ll shock those who followed GoT.

I was V impressed w/ Smith, Daemon already is a compelling presence! I haven’t seen him in many shows/movies yet, BUT plan to check out Doctor Who (he starts out in S5). I loved David Tennant in that role, so have high expectations. Alcock (who is just 22 y.o. now) looks to be a promising actress; I thought she had a good handle on Rhaenyra. I’m curious to see what Ifans will do w/ his role; I’ve seen him in a few movies MANY yrs ago. I loved the music (from Ramin Djawadi) and the general look of the show, esp. the costumes. Now, I’m NOT an expert on visual/special effects, BUT they looked impressive. Do check out this ep for yourself, and let me know your thoughts (in comments below or Twitter- where I’ve been sharing some content)! There are many “Easter eggs” for fans of the previous show, too.