“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

“Ophelia” (2018) starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, & George MacKay

As a rebellious/motherless child, Ophelia, is taken into Elsinore Castle by Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) as one of her ladies-in-waiting. Years later, a grown-up Ophelia (Daisy Ridley- who had her breakout role in the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy) captures the affections of Prince Hamlet (George MacKay). A romance kindles between the two in secret, as the kingdom is on the brink of war, amidst internal intrigue and betrayal. When Hamlet’s father (Nathaniel Parker- who has no lines) is murdered and the prince sets his mind on revenge against the new king/his uncle, Claudius (Clive Owen- wearing a terrible wig), Ophelia must choose between love and survival.

What happens when “the message” (feminism- in this case) and style (locations/sets, hair, costumes, etc.) are made more important than substance (good writing)? Well, we get movies like this (available on Netflix) from Aussie director Claire McCarthy. The cinematographer (or D.P.) is McCarthy’s husband, Denson Baker; I think he did a fine job. This movie was shot on location is the Czech Republic on a mere $12M budget- wow! I learned that it’s based on a young adult (YA) novel by Lisa Klein, NOT the tragic play Hamlet by Shakespeare. The chanting (repeated in several scenes) comes from Hamlet’s letter in Act 2, scene 2: “Doubt that the stars are fire. Doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar. But never doubt I love.”

Things just don’t make sense here- which is frustrating! Young Ophelia is running around the castle dressed in raggedy clothes w/ a dirty face, though her father is the king’s main advisor. As a young adult, the other ladies-in-waiting belittle Ophelia as she wears flowers, NOT jewels (b/c Polonius can’t afford them). WTH!? As one astute reviewer noted, lines and scenes from other Shakespeare plays (Much Ado About Nothing; Romeo and Juliet) are used here. In the play, Hamlet hates the wild/drunken parties thrown by Claudius; here he wears a mask and dances w/ those at court. Of course, Ophelia (being NOT like other girls- eyeroll), is self-conscious b/c she “dances like a goat.” Whatever… There is V little development of the love story; I also didn’t see any chemistry btwn Ridley and MacKay. I’ve heard that MANY young actors want to tackle the role of Hamlet, BUT I felt kinda sorry for him here. Emasculating men or casting them ONLY as baddies is NOT going to improve stories of women. Just don’t waste your time!

[1] The all-star cast were OK in their roles, but nothing earth-shattering. The love story needed loads of developing and loads more could have been made of Clive Owen’s character being a threat to Hamlet’s family, crown and future. Naomi Watt’s duel roles was super confusing and brought nothing to either characters. (Which pains me to say as I love her as an actress). I really feel this film is style over substance.

[2] Hamlet is a non starter, some angry little boy. and the men of course are evil: deny education, don’t take care of their wife, kill other men, try to rape and so on.

[3] Preachy, not empowered. Lose the agenda and the attitude. Too bad, this could have been something interesting.

[4] I’m an ultra-lefty feminist and even I eyerolled. Why couldn’t it be a genuine dramatic tragedy? It didn’t need this type of girl power remake.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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.