“House of the Dragon” (Episode 2: “The Rogue Prince”)

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from Episode 2 of House of the Dragon.

Rhaenyra oversteps at the Small Council. Viserys is urged to secure the succession through marriage. Daemon announces his intentions. -Synopsis from HBO

The events of this ep (which involves diplomacy and matchmaking) take place 6 mos. after the pilot ep. Surprisingly, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), is still the royal cupbearer (though she was officially made the heir to the king). Wow, can y’all believe it- a death in this world from old age!? The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Ryam Redwyne, recently passed away peacefully in his sleep. Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) bursts into the Small Council w/ news of his recent losses at the hands of the Triarchy. This is a group under the leadership of the Crabfeeder, who lets crabs feed upon the flesh of his victims (yikes)! When Rhaenyra offers her opinion on the matter, she’s quickly shut down by the Hand, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).

Rhaenyra is sent off to help choose a new member of the Kingsguard; this knight will be protecting her also. Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish) starts presenting the handful of candidates to her. Rhaenyra learns that ONLY one of these knights has experience in battle- Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). When she chooses him, Otto pulls her aside and explains that the other knights come from important houses (so it’d be politically advantageous to pick one of them). Rhaenyra sticks to her decision, as she wants the best fighter to protect her father. I never considered that choosing a bodyguard could be political; I don’t think I’d last a day in King’s Landing- LOL!

In the sept, we have a touching/emotional scene btwn Alicent (Emily Carey), who seems to be more religious, and Rhaenyra (unsure of how to pray). Rhaenyra and her father have NOT been communicating much lately. Both girls are missing their mothers; Rhaenyra even cries a BIT. They kneel before a statue and light votive candles. This statue is The Mother, who represents one aspect of in the Faith of the Seven. Of course, Rhaenyra has NO idea that Alicent and her father have been meeting and growing closer.

Corlys: To elude a storm, you can either sail into it or around it. But you must never await its coming.

King Viserys (Paddy Considine) meets w/ Corlys and Rhaenys (Eve Best) in the royal garden; they propose that the he marry their daughter, Laena. Toussaint and Best have great chemistry; you can believe that these characters been married a long time. When the king discusses this w/ Ser Otto and Maester Mellos, they exchange some (scheming) looks. Otto’s comments reveal that the king should take more time to grieve. Notice that one of Viserys’ pinky fingers is infected; he puts his hand into a bowl filled w/ maggots- yuck! Later that night, Viserys meets w/ Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), in the Small Council chamber re: his remarriage. Strong thinks that his marrying Laena (though she is V young) is a good idea.

Rhaenys: Here is the hard truth, which no one else has the heart to tell you. Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.

We have perhaps the MOST cringe-worthy scene (of this show) when Viserys takes a walk w/ Laena (12 y.o.) in the garden. He’s NOT comfortable w/ this at all. Being a kid, Laena’s interested in dragons. FYI: Viserys was a dragon rider; he was the last Targaryen to ride Balerion (AKA The Black Dread). Balerion (who died of old age after living 200 yrs) was ridden by Aegon The Conqueror during the Targaryen conquest of Westeros. In a balcony high above the garden, Rhaenyra and Rhaenys have a serious convo re: women and leadership. Y’all, it’s TOO real (though this is fantasy show)!

Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) sends a letter to the king, saying that he’s getting married and going to have a child. We also learn from one of the keepers that Daemon snuck into the dragon pits and stole an egg- wow! Now, this was the same dragon egg that lay in the cradle of Viserys’ dead baby son. Viserys declares that he will face Daemon and get that egg back, BUT Otto stops him (saying it’s TOO dangerous). Daemon was banished by Viserys from court in the 1st ep; he has taken over Dragonstone (protected by 2,000 men formerly of the City Watch). Instead of going back to his wife, he’s living w/ his foreign-born mistress, Mysaria (Sonoyo Mizuno).

Otto (wearing armor), Ser Criston, and a group of soldiers travel by ship to Dragonstone; they face Daemon and his Gold Cloaks on a high bridge near the castle. Suddenly, Rhaenyra flies up on her dragon (Syrax), and gracefully lands on the bridge behind her father’s men! Otto is stunned for a moment, then tells Ser Criston to take her to safety. Rhaenyra is NOT deterred; she talks to Daemon (in High Valerian). She dares him to kill her now, BUT (of course) he wouldn’t hurt his niece. Daemon tosses the dragon egg back to Rhaenyra, like it’s NO big deal- LOL! Rhaenyra can get stuff done, though she is young/impulsive!

Inside the castle, in the same room where Stannis and Melisandre plotted on GoT, we get a look into Daemon’s relationship w/ Mysaria. I’m NOT a fan of the (odd) accent chosen for Mysaria; it sounds like a mix of Chinese and French (to my ears). Some other viewers said it sounded Jamaican and French. Mysaria has a sense of mystery about her; I loved her dress/cape here. The wedding and baby were made-up by Daemon; he wants his brother’s attention and love! Mysaria is (obviously) angry, as his lies could put her life in danger. She doesn’t come from privilege like him; she was taken from her homeland and bought/sold many times. Also, Mysaria made sure that she can’t get pregnant (as Daemon assumed would eventually happen).

Back in King’s Landing, Viserys gathers his Small Council and takes a few moments to ready himself for his big decision. Aside from the usual men and Rhaenyra, we see that Alicent is also present. The king announces that he will marry… Alicent! Otto looks pleased beyond words; he’d urged his daughter to spend time w/ the king. Corlys is shocked/angry; he protests and then storms out of the room. Rhaenyra has a V hurt expression on her face, while Alicent looks apologetic. Before Viserys can say anything to her, Rhaenyra nearly runs out of the room, too.

Corlys: If those shipping lanes fall, my house will be crippled. And I will not have Driftmark beggared while our King idles himself with feasts, and balls, and tourneys.

Daemon: I will speak of my brother as I wish. You will not.

I liked how the tension/mystery was built up in the scene btwn Corlys and Daemon. They meet in Corlys’ castle (Driftmark) and discuss going to fight in the Stepstones; by going around the king, this would be called treasonous! When Corlys insults Viserys, Daemon shuts him down (as he’s the ONLY one who can cut down his brother). Yeah, he’s a fascinating guy!

“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

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.

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Batman” (2022) starring Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, & Paul Dano

…rather than make Bruce Wayne the playboy version we’ve seen before, there’s another version who had gone through a great tragedy and became a recluse. Kurt Cobain had a relationship w/ fame, where being famous was not his goal. He loved music, but the idea of being famous for music was a double edged sword for him. And that made me think of Rob Pattinson, actually. I felt that this rock-star vibe suited him well. After all, he became a pop-culture icon at a very young age and had to carry that burden too, and extricate himself from it to become the actor he is today. -Matt Reeves, writer/director

Bruce Wayne in this reimagining of Batman was partially inspired by Kurt Cobain. Reeves was listening to Nirvana when he wrote the 1st act. This is the 1st movie to directly address the black eye makeup under the cowl. In previous versions, the makeup just disappeared when Bruce took his mask off. Reeves explained: “I just loved the idea of taking off [the mask] and under that there’s the sweating and the dripping and the whole theatricality of becoming this character.” Robert Pattinson (whose acting I don’t yet know well) and Zoë Kravitz (who plays Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman) were friends for about 10 yrs before being cast in this film. Reeves commented that they already had great chemistry and a natural connection from the beginning of shooting. I thought almost ALL the scenes btwn Batman and Catwoman crackled w/ chemistry!

Bruce is obsessed in being Batman. He has no desire to be Bruce and he wants to just throw it away. He hasn’t gotten over being the 10-year-old boy who, in his mind, let his parents die. For him, being Batman is like a strange kind of therapy. He thinks this is the way he can save himself, by living in this kind of Zen state as Batman, where it’s just pure instinct and no emotional baggage. It feels like he has a death wish going out at night. I always get the impression that he wants to keep recreating the night when his parents died. In his mind, every single person he is fighting is the person who killed his parents. -Robert Pattinson

This Batman is a “detective” of sorts, as many critics/viewers noted; he works w/ the police to solve crime. He is a man of few words and doesn’t feel the needs to put on the persona of Bruce Wayne. At this point, he has been at the vigilante biz for 2yrs and Gotham doesn’t trust him. However, the respected Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright- always great in any role) brings him in on tough cases as he trusts Batman. Reeves’ version of the Riddler (Paul Dano- all grown up) was partly inspired by the Zodiac killer who operated in California in the late 1960s. I noticed that some Adam Driver fans also admire this character actor. Like Driver, Dano is V tall, doesn’t have a face typical of a Hollywood actor, and is able to project vulnerability. Andy Serkis takes on the (rare) good guy role; he plays Alfred, BUT doesn’t get too much to do. I thought he did fine w/ what he was given. Did some of you recognize Colin Farrell!? (I ONLY knew it was him b/c I listened to some movie podcasts before viewing!) John Turturro (a veteran character actor who I know from Spike Lee movies) has a pivotal role, BUT I don’t want to give too much away.

When my kid saw me for the first time, he was utterly horrified. I have it on iPhone. He was horrified.

-Colin Farrell re: his transformation to Oswald (AKA The Penguin)

I already have my fave Batman (Christian Bale), so wasn’t TOO eager to see this version. There is also charm (and nostalgia) when looking back at Michael Keaton’s take on Batman, many growing up in the ’80s have commented. Also, Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer (who were exes) were hot as a romantic duo in Batman Returns! It got some decent reviews and was streaming on HBO Max, so I checked it out a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s a V long movie (as is the case nowadays w/ many movies)! The filmmakers create a realistic and noir-like environment; Gotham is usually gloomy, rainy, and dark. It (mostly) kept my attention, BUT I didn’t think much on it after a couple of days. If you want a diversion and enjoy this character, then give it a look.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Dune” (2021) starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Fergusen, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, & Josh Brolin

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence- a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential- only those who can conquer their fear will survive. -Synopsis from Warner Bros.

Dune (directed by Denis Villeneuve- Canadian of French heritage) is a movie unlike any other I’ve seen in recent years; I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Its 2 hr. 35 min. run time seemed to pass by quickly, as the story (incl. stunning visuals) was V compelling. The music (composed by Hans Zimmer) adds much to the movie; new instruments and a language were invented for the score. The costumes range from practical and lightweight to intricate and decorative. This is part one of the story; it is based on the book by Frank Herbert, one of the iconic writers of sci-fi. Herbert’s work has been compared to Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy; it obviously influenced George Lucas as he created Star Wars. The planet Arakis (also called Dune) is the ONLY place where “spice” (perhaps akin to oil in our world) can be found; many factions want to control this world. The natives of Arakis are the Fremin, a tough/desert people who live in a harsh environment w/ dangerous giant worms (yikes)! The scenes on the ocean world of Caladan were shot in Norway. Much of the desert scenes of Arakis were shot in Jordan and Abu Dhabi.

Paul: [From trailer] Dad, what if I’m not the future of House Atreides?

Duke Leto: A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he is called to it. But if your answer is no, you’d still be the only thing I ever needed you to be: my son.

In a world unlike ours 8,000 yrs. in the future, we meet Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet- doing a fine job), a skinny/bright/teen. He spends his days studying and learning to fight from his older mentor/sword master- Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). One of the early scenes where Paul and Gurney spar is V cool; the choreography (by Roger Yuan) included a type of Filipino martial arts. Another mentor of Paul’s is the warrior, Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa), who brings charm and humor to the story. Much is expected from Paul, as he’s the son/heir of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac- looking fab w/ gray-streaked hair/full beard). I loved the easy/warm relationship between Chalamet and Isaac. I’m surprised that Chalamet is growing on me; his naturalistic acting style, incl. ability to portray vulnerability easily fit this role. (Though Christian Bale will always be Laurie to me!)

Duncan: Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

Paul has inherited strong powers from his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson- a standout). She is the concubine of Duke Leto and was raised by the Bene Gesserit (a secretive/powerful order made up of all women). Chalamet and Ferguson also have great chemistry. Paul has visions about Arakis w/ an unknown/young woman (Zendaya- who appears in the 3rd act of this story). The Rev. Mother Mohaim (Charlotte Rampling- a veteran British actress) comes to see (and test) Paul on his abilities. House Atreides is given control of the desert planet from the Emperor. A powerful opponent, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard- menacing even inside prosthetics), wants to take control of Arakis. Check out this movie on HBOMax! I didn’t know much re: this story, aside from watching the miniseries (which co-starred a V young James McAvoy) about 20 yrs. ago.