Monday, May 20, 2019

EYE CANDY: Gerardo Gabriel (3rd Time!)

Gerardo Gabriel is a Latino bodybuilder with an immense following on Instagram (1.4 million @gerardo_gabriel). He has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (April 3, 2017 and July 4, 2016). His abs are incredible and the rest of him is not too bad either!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

GAME OF THRONES (S8E05) : "The Bells"

The episode contains the final resolution of the fight between Daenerys and Cersei for control of the Iron Throne and the leadership of the Seven Kingdoms. "The Bells" is the penultimate episode of the series and so a number of important characters meet their ends. The ones that come to mind are: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, Sandor Clegane, Gregor Clegane, Maester Qyburn, and Lord Varys.

The most prominent deaths of the episode are of the Lannister twins, Cersei and Jaime. Many, many viewers were very disappointed that the most villainous character in the story (Cersei) was killed not by another character, but by falling rocks. It was an interesting detail that Cersei's death did follow the prophecy that "the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you." The valonqar is the younger sibling, which everyone (including Cersei) took to mean Tyrion, but in the end it was Jaime who had his hands around Cersei's throat as they were both crushed to death. Of course, ultimately it was Dany who killed them, by raking the Red Keep with so much fire that it collapsed, but it was a hollow death, since we didn't get to see any direct or indirect interaction between the two central characters.

The Lannisters' death came after Jaime had killed Euron Greyjoy, whose Iron Fleet had been completely destroyed by Drogon's fire. (Some people who watched the show were very annoyed that one episode after Rhaegal was killed by Qyburn's ballistas that suddenly the flying spears were completely unable to prevent Dany and her remaining dragon from dominating the airspace of King's Landing.) Regardless, the hand-to-hand combat between Euron and Jaime and the fact that they both were able to land fatal blows on each other was an important scene.

Meanwhile Dany was incredibly effective on Drogon, as she basically destroyed both the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company by herself, breaching the walls of King's Landing to allow her remaining troops (Dothraki and Unsullied led by Grey Worm and assembled forces of the North led by Jon Snow) to enter the city.

It's the scenes inside the city which make the episode so harrowing. Once they get inside and the defending Lannister forces realize that Dany can basically kill anyone from the sky they reluctantly surrender their weapons, but once the bells start to ring out and Dany continues her devastating fiery pillage of the city that animates Grey Worm who throws his spear directly at an unarmed Lannister killing him, that sets off the sack of King's Landing and the murder and rape of thousands of innocents. Jon slowly realizes that his attacking forces are committing horrible acts against the defensive forces and tries (unsuccessfully) to prevent the worst of the war crimes, going as far to kill a soldier from the North as he is attempting to rape a woman.

For much of the episode we (the audience) is following Arya, who tries to escape King's Landing while the two armies are battling each other and Dany is dropping dragon fire from the sky indiscriminately. Arya experiences the destruction of King's Landing from the perspective of the women and children of the city and it is terrifying, confusing and amazing. After all the important deaths (mentioned earlier) in the final scene of the episode we see Arya covered in grey ash with multiple injuries and improbably she finds a white horse nearby ready to be soothed and she uses it to ride out of the city to safety. How will she use the fact that she is alive and everyone on her kill list is dead? Only one episode left to find out!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line of the episode is Lord Varys' heartfelt "I hope I deserved it. Truly, I do. I hope I'm wrong. " This is what he says right before he is executed by Drogon on Daenerys' command after Tyrion confesses to her that Varys doubts that she is the best person to sit on the Iron Throne.
  • Another important quote in the episode was also done by Varys: "They say that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath." The implication is that 50% of Targaryen's may be insane, which is problematic when Targaryens have been in the ruling class of the Seven Kingdoms.
  • The direction by Miguel Sapochnik (who also directed the more controversial "The Long Night") was absolutely stunning.
  • The aerial shots of King's Landing as the town was being devastated by Dany and her dragon were incredible. It's even more amazing that instead of filing in Dubrovnik as usual, the producers created a brand new set in Dublin just so they could destroy it!
  • Cleganebowl!
The only lowlight of the episode was that we didn't get to see the face of Daenerys as she decimated King's Landing, thus we were provided any insight into her thought processes for killing so many people and destroying so much property after the bells rang out and (presumably) the city had surrendered. This result shocked a lot of people (not me) so hopefully we do get some kind of explanation in the series finale.

Grade: 10/10

Friday, May 17, 2019

CELEBRITY FRIDAY (BONUS): Rise, Sir Andy Murray!

Andy Murray, former World #1 and 3-time major tennis champion, finally received his knighthood from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace this week. The honour had been announced in December 2016 after Murray won Wimbledon a second time as well as a Gold Medal at the Rio Olympics and finished the year at World #1 in the rankings.

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Black Mirror Season 5 Out June 5!

The fifth season of Black Mirror is coming out in 3 weeks, on June 5th, on Netflix! The season will consist of (only) 3 episodes but will star bug names such as Miley CyrusAnthony Mackie (who will also be appearing in another Netflix show, season 2 of Altered Carbon) and Anthony Scott (from Big Little Lies and Parks and Recreation).

Thursday, May 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Fleet of Knives (Embers of War, #2) by Gareth L. Powell

Fleet of Knives is  the second book in the Embers of War trilogy, and the sequel to Embers of War. This series is clearly space opera; it features an interesting cast of characters: first is a sentient space ship called Trouble Dog with a misfit crew. The Trouble Dog's captain is Sal Konstanz, with crewmembers Alva Clay (a seasoned war veteran), Preston Menderes (the very young ship medical officer who dropped out of medical school and was assigned to the ship due to his admiral father) and Nod (an alien with faces in the palms of its six hands).

The other important character in this book is Ona Sudak, which is the alternate identity for Captain Annelida Deal who was introduced in the first book right before she began carrying out a genocidal order to incinerate a planet-straddling sentient forest in order to bring an intergalactic war to a sudden end.
In the beginning of the second book, Sudak is moments away from being executed when she is suddenly rescued because the Marble Armada wants to work with her. The Marble Armada is a fleet of one million alien ships (which resemble white knives) that were discovered at the end of Embers of War

In Fleet of Knives the Marble Armada uses Ona Sudak to help them implement their overarching mission, which they repeatedly say is to prevent humans from engaging in interstellar war again. However, this means that the fleet of knives ends up destroying lots of ships and structures that directly results in many collateral human casualties. The reason for their actions, the Fleet says, is that they are trying to prevent humanity from getting the attention of even more vicious aliens who exist in hyperspace and whom the Fleet seems afraid of.

We get introduced to a new cast of characters in Fleet of Knives after a ship called Lucy's Ghost is attacked by a curious hyperspatial creature and crash onto a huge dormant alien artifact. Unfortunately there are viciously murderous aliens that resemble crawfish that attack (and kill) multiple members of the survivors of Lucy's Ghost.

Trouble Dog is the strongest character in both books and eventually she comes face-to-face with the fleet of knives whom for some reason seem particularly interested in making sure that she is either destroyed or has her weapons deactivated.

I think I actually liked Fleet of Knives more than Embers of War even though it ends with a pretty substantial cliffhanger. The tension between the fleet of knives and Trouble Dog is also not resolved. However, I feel more invested in reading Book 3 (the still unnamed sequel to Fleet of Kniveswhen it comes out next year than I felt invested in reading Book 2 after finishing Book 1. Embers of War won the 2018 British Science Fiction Award for best novel, so it will be interesting to see the overall critical reception for Fleet of Knives, which is arguably a better book.

Title: Fleet of Knives.
Gareth L. Powell.
Paperback: 416 pages.
 Titan Books.
Date Published: February 19, 2019.
Date Read: May 9, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (3.83/4.0).


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Big 3 Are All Top 3; Tsitsipas Beats Nadal; Djokovic Wins Madrid; Kiki Beats Halep

The big 3 first occupied the Top 3 spots at the top of the rankings on July 9, 2007 (when Djokovic joined Nadal and Federer). Last week, Federer returned to the Top 3 where Djokovic and Nadal were holding down the two top spots. Together the three players account for an astonishing 792 weeks at #1, with Federer owning the record 310 weeks, followed by Djokovic with 251 and Nadal with 196.

The Madrid Masters ended with Rafael Nadal suffering his 3rd consecutive semifinal loss in a clay court tournament in 2019. He lost to Fabio Fognini (in straight sets) in Barcelona, to Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo and he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid! This is the first time since 2004 that Nadal has reached this point in the season without having won a title. His last chance at a clay title will be Rome, where both World #1 Djokovic and (surprisingly!)  World #3 Federer are also playing. The key take-away from Madrid though is despite being just 20-years-old Tsitsipas already has wins over all of the members of the trivalry and is up to World #7 in the rankings. He beat Federer in the 4th round of the 2019 Australian Open, he beat Nadal in Madrid and he beat Djokovic in Montreal last summer.

Surprisingly, Kiki Bertens became the first player to ever win the Madrid Open without dropping a set when she defeated 2-time champion (2016 & 2017) Simona Halep 6-4 6-4. Bertens had lost the final last year to Petra Kvitova but she has had some of her best results in her career in the last year, including a win over Venus Williams at Wimbledon. With the biggest title of her career she becomes the highest ranked Dutch player ever, rising to World #4 this week!

For the first time this year, the person who beat Nadal on clay did not win the tournament. Less than 24 hours after beating Nadal, Tsitsipas had to face Djokovic in the final, and was fairly easily dismissed, 6-3 6-4. Djokokic had more trouble in the semifinals against Dominic Thiem, whome he defeated in two tiebreak sets despite being down a service break in both sets! With his win, the World #1 cements his place at the top of the rankings, especially considering he has won the last three major tournaments in a row and now has tied Nadal with 33 Masters shields. Federer lags behind with 28.

Roger Federer hit another career milestone by winning his 1200 match in Madrid (by coming from behind to beat Gael Monfils). After losing a tight 3-set match to Dominic Thiem (despite holding two match points) he decided to play Rome for the first time since 2016.

Monday, May 13, 2019

EYE CANDY: Nathan Mozango (reprise)

Natahan Mozango is a bodybuilder and Instagram thirst trap (@nathanmozango) who has appeared as Eye Candy only once before (May 29, 2017).

Saturday, May 11, 2019

GAME OF THRONES (S8E04) : "The Last of the Starks"

This episode begins with a funeral for all the dead who fell in the previous epic episode "The Long Night." We see all the survivors, looking sombre, about to set alight the pyres of their friends, lovers, brothers, sons, fathers, etc. However, afterwards, we see a huge feast occurring in the great hall of Winterfell, with everyone  (except Arya, who is called "the hero of Winterfell" in her absense) drinking and eating and making merry. Everyone in attendance is happy except for Dany, who notices how people seem to gravitate around her nephew/lover Jon Snow, even though an objective analysis would show that he did not acquit himself with much impact in last night's battle between the living and the dead. You can see the realization on her face that she could very well lose her claim to the Iron Throne to this guy. So she calls out Gendry Rivers, gets him to confirm in front of everyone that he is indeed Robert Barratheon's "bastard son" and declares that he is now Gendry Barratheon, Lord of Storm's End (the Barratheon homestead). It's a nice moment and everyone in the hall applauds the new Lord's good fortune. Lord Gendry, continues his search for Arya, who he finds alone, practicing her archery marksmanship. Being the silly dude he is, Gendry gets on one knee and asks Lady Arya Stark to marry him. She lets him down easy. "You will make a great Lord and you deserve to have the love of a great Lady. But I am not a lady. I never was, and I don't intend to be." Although we see the end of one couple in this episode we also see the consummation of the relationship between Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, two episodes after he knighted her in "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms."

The title of this week's episode is "The Last of the Starks," presumably because of the scene with Jon, Sansa, Arya and Bran (the four surviving Stark children) meeting in the Weirwood, where Jon defies Dany (as everyone knew he would) and reveals the secret that only 4 people in the world know: his real name is Aegon Targaryen, so in fact he is not their adopted brother, he is their cousin (the son of their father's sister Lyanna Stark). Before he tells them he makes them swear not to reveal what he is about to say and then he tells Bran "tell them everything." Curiously, the reveal happens off-screen, as does the second reveal when Sansa tells Tyrion, who has come to try and convince the Lady of Winterfell to trust in his judgment that the Dragon Queen will be a just ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. "What if there were someone else?" Sansa asks him.

This cuts to the first of two pivotal scenes where Tyrion and Varys debate who should be the ruler of Seven Kingdoms that would benefit the most number of people. Tyrion, as one would expect from the Hand of the Queen, makes his case for Daenerys, while Varys, who having reached the inner corridors of power without ceding his connection to the common folk, wonders aloud if it wouldn't be better to have someone sit on the Iron Throne who has to be convinced to do it, instead of someone who believes it is their (her!) birthright. It's an interesting philosophical question which has echoes of modern day politics.

However this is a brief respite from the mayhem of the rapidly approaching battle for the Iron Throne. Many of our heroes set off by ship and Dany and her dragons are flying above them. Suddenly they are ambushed by Euron's fleet of ships and we see huge flying spears whizzing through the air, barely missing Dany on Drogon and connecting with Rhaegal in the wing. Two more spears come by and they catch the dragon in the throat, and he falls into the ocean, suddenly dead. Could Drogon and Dany be next? Happily they survive but it means that Dany is now down to one dragon. The new weapons by Qyburn not only can take dragons out of the sky, they can blast ships from several hundred feet away as well. Tyrion and Grey Worm barely survive and it turns out that Missandei is captured by Euron's company.

The inevitable showdown between Dany, Varys, Grey Worm, Tyrion outside of the walls of King's Landing as they watch Cersei, Qyburn, Euron, and a captured Missandei occurs at the very end of the episode. Even though it was very clear there was no way she would survive the situation, it was still shocking to see Mountain chop her head off as her lover watched. The look on Dany's face as she stormed away from the scene where one of her closest confidants was murdered as she mourns the death of one of her children was enough for us to know that the penultimate episode of the season (and show) next week will be the epic battle for the Iron Throne we have been waiting for since the show debuted in 2011.

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line of the episode (and maybe the season so far!) is Tyrion's response to Varys as they debate who they think really would be the best ruler of the Seven Kingdoms: "I don't think a cock is a true qualification." 
  • The second best line is probably Jaime's "I've never slept with a Knight before." Of course Brienne's response is "I've never slept with anyone before."
  • Most valuable player of the episode is Tyrion, who risks his life by trying to speak directly with his sister, Queen Cersei, to attempt to reach some human compassion at her core in order to try and avoid the bloodshed and horror he knows will result if the two Queens of the Realm battle for supremacy. He fails (of course), but the attempt was valiant. I was quite surprised he survived the effort. A close second would probably be Qyburn, who of course designed the new weapons which were used to devastating effect by Euron's navy to not only kill half of Dany's surviving dragons, but also obliterated a significant fraction of her existing naval power as well.
  • The love scene between Jaime and Brienne was great, because it was a payoff for a relationship that has been in existence for several seasons. However the sight of Brienne in tears, dressed only in a nightgown, begging Jaime not to give in to his "bad" side and return to his evil sister/lover was heartbreaking. 
The primary lowlight was the fact that Rhaegal was taken out of the game so abruptly and brutally. There's no question that 6 episodes is simply not enough time to wrap up a story as complex and complicated  as George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

Grade: 9/10.


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