Friday, May 24, 2019

First New PHILIPPINE NAVY MISSILE FRIGATE Launched in SOUTH KOREA

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It is a something of an old and worn-out tale to say that when the Philippines was newly independent from the United States, it boasted one of the most-efficiently equipped armed forces in Southeast Asia, with plenty of leftover hand-down armaments and military vessels in use. Over the decades however, the rest of the nations in the region have caught up and improved their capacities while that of the Philippines has stagnated. Overseas acquisitions of new equipment for the armed forces tend to be fraught with controversy as well. That applies to the new warship being built for the Navy in South Korea, though its recent launch might prove inspiring.
Inquirer.net reports that the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), the first frigate of the Philippine Navy that has missiles as its primary armaments, was launched on Thursday, May 23, at the shipyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in Ulsan, South Korea. The occasion was witnessed by officials from the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Navy. BRP Jose Rizal will also be the class ship of the Navy’s new Jose Rizal frigate line, with another vessel, to be called BRP Antonio Luna, having its keel newly-laid at the HHI yards.
Measuring 107 meters long, the Jose Rizal will be the first Philippine Navy warship with a contemporarily modern design. Its missiles can be launched at targets in the water, land, air, and even underwater. Its shape is of the current trend with stealth-conducive contour to less its radar visibility in the water, backed by an electronic warfare capability. It is a refit of the South Korean frigate design Incheon/FFX-I/HDF-3000. Both Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna were ordered by the Navy from HHI back in 2016, with a total budget of $16 billion for the two.
However, like almost all dealings to modernize the armed forces, the South Korean-made frigates had their own little controversy. Originally their combat management system (CMS) was to be provided from the Netherlands. But in 2017 Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had Navy Chief V-Adm. Joseph Mercado, a proponent of the Dutch CMS, removed from his post. At the same time, HHI contracted a fellow South Korean firm offering its own system for the Jose Rizal frigates. President Duterte said he signed off on Hanwha Naval Shield being installed on the ships following a formal complaint from Hyundai Heavy Industries about potential incompatibility with Netherland’s Thales Tacticos.
The new Navy frigates are to have an over-100-man crew, missile batteries, super-rapid gun and remote-controlled naval cannon. They will also each carry UK-made AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat helicopters, both already delivered. BRP Jose Rizal will be delivered to the Philippines in 2020, while BRP Antonio Luna will wait until 2021.
Image courtesy of GMA Network

First TRAILER Out for Paramount’s “TERMINATOR: DARK FATE,” Coming NOVEMBER

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Before “Avatar,” before “Titanic,” the movie franchise that would have been an easy connection to the name of filmmaker James Cameron would be “Terminator.” The concept of a human-looking robot assassin from a dark future dominated by machines was a starkly iconic idea. From its relatively low-key sci-fi horror 1984 debut, it ballooned into a very expensive SFX and CGI-laden action epic with the 1991 sequel “Judgment Day,” although subsequent “Terminator” films would be lesser appreciated, from either an attempted direct sequel to spinoffs. Paramount looks to try the franchise again this year with “Terminator: Dark Fate,” the first trailer of which arrived this week according to CBS News.
Perhaps the main draw of this new “Terminator” film is the fact that it goes beyond just featuring key iconic characters of the franchise, such as Sarah and John Connor and the titular T-800 Model 101 Terminator. Rather, they would have another past cast-member join in the project alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is none other than Linda Hamilton, the original actress for Sarah Connor whose performance was much hailed in the 1991 sequel, where she transitioned from the hapless survivor of “The Terminator” to the hard-bitten action mom of “Judgment Day.”
The trailer for “Dark Fate” jumps into the action without much framing or world-building. Once again, the machine leader Skynet has sent an advanced Terminator model from the future to kill a young girl (Natalia Reyes) in the past. Said girl finds a guardian in a young woman (Mackenzie Davis) who, despite insisting that she is human, has a Terminator-like endoskeleton under her skin, with all the superhuman ability that implies. The new Terminator Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) however has a new combination of old tricks from past models, and the only one who might be able to help its targets are an aged Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and an apparently-surviving T-800 (Schwarzenegger) with aged living-tissue disguise.
James Cameron returns to the “Terminator” franchise with “Dark Fate,” though only as producer and co-writer. Directing duties are given over to Tim Miller, who can be credited as one of the reasons for the surprise success of 2016’s “Deadpool” from 20th Century Fox. Cameron gave a definitive word on the status of such “Terminator” entries as “Rise of the Machines” (2003), “Salvation” (2009), “Genesys” (2015) and the TV series “Sarah Connor Chronicles” (2008-09) where the title role was played by Lena “Cersei” Headey. These installments apparently happened in alternate histories while their storyline for “Dark Fate” will be a direct sequel to “Judgment Day.”
Diego Bonita, Jude Collie and Enrique Arce also star in the movie, co-produced by Paramount and now-Disney subsidiary 20th Century Fox. The former will distribute the film in North America while Disney handles distribution on the international scene. “Terminator: Dark Fate” premieres this November 1.
Image courtesy of Comic Book.com

SENATE Version of “END ENDO” BILL Passes with UNANIMOUS VOTE

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In the modern Filipino working landscape, one portmanteau term fills many rank-and-file employees with dread: “Endo.” It means “End of Contract” and has been a thorn in the side of working people in the Philippines, particularly since the start of the 21st Century. By exploiting a loophole in the now-ironclad Labor Law regulation of regularizing employees after six months in the company, some businesses have avoided taking on greater responsibilities for their workforce. This was one of the secondary objectives that President Rodrigo Duterte swore to address during his term. Now, the first step toward that resolution has passed with the upper chamber of Congress.
CNN Philippines reports that the Senate has approved their version of a proposed bill that will remove the shadow of Endo over the working career of many employees in the Philippines. Senate Bill 1826 or the “Security of Tenure and End of Endo Act of 2018” should in practice do away with the strong-arm method of employee contractualization that sees many workers flit from job to job every half-year or so once their limited employment contracts end. Ending a work term after only five months is how some companies have prevented their workers from becoming regular employees with greater benefits (and costs to the company).
To drive home just how vital this issue is and how much President Duterte wants the legislation to answer it, Senate Bill 1826 actually passed unanimously on Wednesday, May 22, with all present Senators casting in favor of it. But for the moment, the contents of the does not yet address Endo but rather “labor-only contracting.” This involves a person or firm serving as a job contractor, recruiting workers that they then place with a contracting company. The contractor thus gets a cut and the employees answer to them instead of their company workplace. Bill 1826 would mandate all workers be directly hired by companies, cutting out the contractor middleman.
Another article on the SOTEEA states that except for the probationary workers (new hires up until 5 months of service), all employees in a company are considered regular, even if they only work for a project or for a season. This also includes legal safeguards that would prevent said businesses from dismissing workers out of hand without “just and authorized cause.” There is no mention of legislation that simply prohibits companies from putting 5-month limits to employee contracts, but that part might be covered by the other side of Congress.
The Senate half of this bill to end Endo and other related practices will be joined to the version already passed by the House of Representatives. They will be ironed out by a bicameral committee that will unite the documents into a single “End Endo” bill, awaiting the President’s signature.
Image courtesy of Philippine Star

For “THE VOICE” Season 16, It’s MAELYN JARMON as WINNER

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“American Idol” on ABC has loosed its shot earlier this week when it had its final competition for season 17. As all fans of reality singing competitions know now, it was the master bayou-style singer from Louisiana, Laine Hardy, who prevailed there in the end. Now it was NBC’s turn with its own big-name reality singing show “The Voice,” which aired its 16th season since late this February. Their Week 6 Live Show Finale went on for two days in Monday and Tuesday, and now the results are out. Notably, the winner of “The Voice” season 16 has hit a number of milestones for the entirety of the show’s run.
As People tells it, Maelyn Jarmon, one of Coach John Legend’s singers, who ultimately emerged victorious in the 2-part finale of “The Voice” 16 on May 20 and 21. She was by her lonesome in this home stretch, with the other members of the Final Four being all talents under Coach Blake Shelton: Andrew Sevener, Gyth Rigdon and Dexter Roberts. The finalists were given a three-song set: a solo cover, a duet cover with coach, and an original song each. Despite the heavy odds, it was Jarmon who won it.
With her victory, Jarmon has established new records benchmarks for the whole run of “The Voice” on its network. She is the second time a contestant who made all four coaches turn in the Blind Auditions advance to win in the finals. Her only companion in this achievement is season 10 winner Alisan Porter. Jarmon also snagged the first coaching victory for John Legend, particularly on his debut as Coach. The occasion was the second time a one-contestant “Voice” coach beat a field of three finalists under a rival. In supreme irony, the first Coach to pull that was Shelton Blake in season 7.
During the winner’s press conference he spoke about this triumph at Blake’s expense with some strong words. “I really love Blake and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him this year. He’s a very arrogant bastard,” Legend said. “I had a feeling he was going to kiss someone’s ass after this show and I was right.”
Support for the 26-year-old Maelyn Jarmon was pretty strong not just in the votes but in the audience. Her family and friends, numbering 20 strong, cheered for her performances while wearing matching “Maelyn” shirts. When her win was announced, her boyfriend Jonny Murrel even joined her onstage during the celebration. Even Jarmon’s life story was inspirational. She achieved her win on “The Voice” season 16 even while deaf in her right ear and only 80% hearing on the left, the result of a medical procedure at age 2 gone wrong.
Regarding Shelton Blake’s country music trio, Andrew Sevener was fourth place, Dexter Roberts placed third, and Gyth Rigdon was Runner-Up.
Image courtesy of Newsweek

“GAME OF THRONES” FINALE Hot Topic of Supportive/Derisive CHINESE Viewers

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This Sunday marked the end of an era when HBO aired the concluding episode of “Game of Thrones,” the epic medieval fantasy series that took the TV-viewing world by storm when it premiered in 2011. Said concluding episode “The Iron Thrones” now counts as the most-watched of the whole series and the most-watched telecast on HBO period. The show was that important to many fans. That is why a vocal portion of them have expressed disappointment in how divergent the narrative became from the source novels written by George R. R. Martin. The vitriol is with fans around the world, including, quite surprisingly, in China.
According to Inquirer.net, Chinese fans of “Game of Thrones” were all on edge as they waited for streaming of “The Iron Throne,” made available in the country courtesy of online rights holder Tencent. When Tencent announced that their scheduled streaming of the finale was delayed on account of media transmission problems, audiences were further aggravated, forcing themselves away from social media all to avoid spoilers regarding who among the surviving leader characters would lay claim to the titular Iron Throne of Westeros. This was problematic for some Chinese office-workers who had taken time off for the original schedule to watch. It was also suspected that the delay was caused by the US-China trade disagreements that have led to the stateside blacklisting of smartphone maker Huawei.
When Tencent finally did get the episode on their media platform, the reaction of fans in China mirrored that of many other viewers around the world. Lots of them took to Weibo to vent their frustration at the episode and season 8 as a whole, decrying it as being very rushed in storytelling in order to reach a conclusion in only six episodes. The leading Weibo hash-tag regarding the series was the spoiler-laden #DragonMotherDies#, and it topped all topics on the China-only social media platform. It had garnered 350 million views and some 80,000 comments, selling just how big of a TV audience China is.
For the Chinese, their most favored viewpoint character had been Emilia Clarke’s Queen Daenerys, Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains and so on. Her fate in “The Iron Throne” so incensed many viewers that some of them talked about feeding show-runners Dave Benioff and D. B. Weiss (who did write the final episode) to a dragon. Others were simply disappointed at what they perceived as a lame denouement to a show that has been running for nearly a decade.
The official Tencent stream of “Game of Thrones” is also known for its cutting of content considered questionable by strict Chinese censors, such as extreme violence and sex scenes. Those fans that could not stand for such have been known to risk finding pirated copies of series episodes to watch. Not all social media reactions were negative though. Others expressed their sadness at the end of the show they have followed for years, as well as the eventual fate of all characters that fortunately survived.
Image courtesy of The Telegraph

Next UPDATE for WINDOWS 10 Now Becoming AVAILABLE for DOWNLOAD

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Computer electronics giant Microsoft made a significant shift in their development of operating systems for PCs when Windows 10 was released in 2015. Where improvements and new features were usually held back until significant version updates (with added names), here the upgrading is a routine online procedure that takes place at least once a year. This method is a big help for quickly determining what new additions, removals and changes work or not. That was how users of Windows Paint convinced Microsoft to keep it as a default application and not a Store downloadable. But now a new update batch is ready for user consideration.
The Verge tells us that the May 2019 for Windows 10 has been released by Microsoft on Tuesday, May 21. This will be the acid test for Microsoft’s priority shift on “maintaining service quality” following the uneven reception of the updates that came out in 2018. Some of those changes have led to system performance issues popping up that would then need resolving in the next update. The October 2018 update had been especially notorious for getting some files deleted in the computers they have been installed to. Microsoft is being more careful this time.
Having improved monitoring of a Windows 10 release status is not the only thing coming out of the May 2019 Update. Another important change is that in the latest version, Windows Search and the Cortana assistant will become separate from each other. This removes the hassle of using one platform for both voice-activated and typewritten searches. Also included is the “Sandbox” featured on the Pro or Enterprise Win-10 releases. It generates a separate virtual desktop viewable on the main one. This can be a safe environment on which a user can run any dubious executable files (.exe) in a safe environment without risking their PC.
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If you think the Windows 10 May 2019 Update is all serious however, do not walk away yet. Other features included in the new build include an additional theme for the operating system desktop, for those who are getting tired of the black taskbar interface. The new theme showcases a brighter shade of blue for the default wallpaper and blue-white taskbar, easier on the eyes. Display support is also being given for kaomoji, the evocative Japanese emoji format that showcase such funny big gestures as “Kirby” or “empty-handed” or “table-flipping” – (  >”)> or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ or (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
The Windows 10 May 2019 Update will gradually be available for downloading the world over from its initial release date. Users can check if they can finally download the new features on the “Windows Update” option in the Settings app.
Images: Windows Central, How-To Geek

Rankings Unchanged as COMELEC Announces WINNING SENATORS for 2019 MIDTERMS

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When the planned proclamation of the winners in the 2019 Philippine Midterm Senatorial Elections yesterday did not materialize, there had been concerns. Then again, an announcement would not do when the race for 12th place was a bit close to the next two candidates in the ranking. What was needed was an overseas certificate of canvass from Los Angeles with some 200,000 votes to really settle the 12-13-14 positions. And apparently that was enough. The postponed official proclamation of Midterm Senators did not last very long. The very next day, the COMELEC National Board of Canvassers finally did the thing.
CNN Philippines reports that the official proclamation pushed through in the morning of Wednesday, May 22 at around 10 AM. It was held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Invitations were sent out to the winning Senators who brought their families and supporters in the audience while the COMELEC Chairman and Commissioners sat as the NBC. Following the opening formalities, the announcement of the Midterm Senators-Elect was done. Even with the added votes from overseas COCs the official ranking remained unchanged aside from boosted numbers. Here then are the official winners and their final vote counts.
Cynthia Villar led the batch with 25,283,727 votes; Grace Poe followed with 22,029,788; Bong Go took the Bronze with 20,657,702. From there, the rest of the Senators are: Pia Cayetano (19,789,019), Ronald dela Rosa (19,004,225), Sonny Angara (18,161,862), Lito Lapid (16,965,464), Imee Marcos (15,882,628), Francis Tolentino (15,510,026), Koko Pimentel (14,668,665), Ramon Bong Revilla (14,624,445), and finally Nancy Binay, whose final count of 14,504,936 secured her position against close competition from the 13th placer JV Ejercito (14,313,727) and 14th placer Bam Aquino (14,144,923). COMELEC estimated that about 74.31% of all registered voters in the Philippines cast their votes during the election, amounting to 47,296,442 validated ballots.
With the winners finally made known, The COMELEC Chairman and Commissioners took turns presenting each new Senator with their certificates of proclamation, starting from the 12th ranked Nancy Binay. Each certificate reading and formal awarding was followed by photo-ops as families and friends of each new Senator joined them onstage. This is only the second stage of the official proclamation of winners for the Midterm polls. Another announcement will be done tonight at 7 PM to welcome the new Party List groups that have gotten seats in the next Congress.
Image from Top News Philippines

HUAWEI Subjected to US RESTRICTIONS; GOOGLE Business on Temporary Permission

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One has to give credit where it is due for Chinese brands and businesses. Just around three decades after the Communist government started allowing private enterprises again, these companies would grow and expand to help make China an economic superpower by the start of the 21st Century. Among the businesses that thrived in this rocket-like rise is Huawei, a telecom and consumer electronics company that rose to international prominence with its internet tech and smartphones. But the US government had been leery of Huawei, suspecting that its products enabled Chinese government surveillance. In the escalating US-China trade standoff, Huawei was one of the first companies to see its products hobbled.
President Donald Trump had initially signed an Executive Order restricting US companies from doing business with Huawei without government permits. However as Fortune tells it, the actual implementation did not happen until trade talks between Washington and Beijing broke down anew. The banning of open business with Huawei came in the wake of increased tax levies on Chinese trade goods worth $200 billion, an action that China warned will be reciprocated in kind. The US Department of Commerce on Monday May 20 had given Huawei-using American broadband providers a 90-day grace period to make all necessary changes to their equipment.
The consequences sound electronically catastrophic on paper. Google according to CNN has had to block the licensing of the Android MOS on new Huawei devices, although current Huawei models released before the restrictions have been unbothered. That should come as good news for many Huawei users outside the US, who upon hearing the news initially feared that they may not be able to access Google and associated apps on their Huawei smartphones. In addition, the US Commerce Department did give a temporary license for Google-Huawei business dealings that will last for three months without restriction.
Huawei itself has been aware of the potential for trouble stemming from the US-China trade war. Should Google-Android support finally be cut, meaning no more Play Store, they plan to build up their in-house App Gallery as something of an alternative. The Huawei App Gallery is present in the more recent Huawei-made devices such as the Honor smartphone line. The one snag in this contingency is that the business ban not only restricts Google in the future but all US tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and so on. Nevertheless, Huawei has publicly assured its investors and customers that the company can weather the storm wrought by the Trump-initiated US ban.
As Huawei founder/CEO and former People’s Liberation Army officer Ren Zhengfei said in a TV interview with Chinese state network CCTV, “The current practice of American politicians underestimates our strength.”
Image courtesy of Washington Post

Planned PROCLAMATION of 2019 MIDTERM Winning SENATORS Not Happening TODAY

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When the 2010 Presidential Elections first introduced automation to how Filipinos voted for their leaders, one of the advantages most promoted about this replacement to the “traditional” manual count was the sheer speed at which results can be delivered and winning candidates can be proclaimed. The first automated outing at 2010, while still full of bugs, did give the promised fast tally. The next one (and first Senatorial) in 2013 was a bit better. By the 2016 Presidential Filipinos have started getting used to the short proclamation timetable afforded by automation. That is why the postponing of winning Senatorial proclamations a week after the polls was a notable surprising development.
CNN Philippines reports that what should have been the official proclamation of the 12 Senators who have won this year’s election, on Tuesday May 21, have been deferred by the Commission of Elections (COMELEC). The stumbling block has been holding back this momentous occasion was, according to COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez, a certificate of canvass (COC) from outside the country. This one is from overseas voters in Los Angeles, and it was going to be officially canvassed at 8 PM Tuesday in Washington DC. Once done, the COC would be transmitted to the Philippines and the National Board of Canvassers.
Normally, one last COC would not matter in the tally for a “magic 12” of winning Senators. Unfortunately the running count for the 12th, 13th and 14th positions in the Senate race was simply just too close to call without a complete count of canvass both in the Philippines and from overseas polls. The partial unofficial tally as of May 20 and with 165 of 167 COCs accounted for would have Nancy Binay at number 12 with 14,484,839 votes; JV Ejercito at 13 with 14,281,173; and Bam Aquino at 14 with 14,117,528 to his name.
The differences between the numbers are by a few hundred thousand where the three aforementioned Senate re-electionists are concerned. The Los Angeles COC, which would have 200,000 registered overseas voters, could shift any of the three on or off the 12th spot. James Jimenez made mention of these in a press briefing Tuesday, even as the Senate proclamation red-carpet would go unused for now. Jimenez sees the proclamation as happening at least before the week is out, but the announcement for Tuesday is duly off.
The COMELEC spokesperson even took a reference off the newly concluded HBO series “Game of Thrones” when explaining the deferment until the LA COC arrives. “In order to make sure na wala nang movement sa ranking ng mga elected officials, we need to get that squared away,” remarks Jimenez. “What do we say to the gods of proclamation? ‘Not today.'”
Image courtesy of Philippine Star

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

“A DOG’S JOURNEY” Satisfyingly Finishes Story of Loyal Reincarnating Canine

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In 2010, W. Bruce Cameron wrote a novel that was a love letter of sorts addressing the friendship between man and his “best friend” the dog. “A Dog’s Purpose” chronicled via first-person/doggie narrative the various breed reincarnations of a dog, the various lives he lived with his different owners, and his childlike but wise perspective of his world. It was good enough to be adapted into film by Universal, Amblin and Walden Media in 2017, only to be hit by an animal cruelty controversy rooted in a deliberately malicious doctored video. It still made enough to warrant a sequel, based on Cameron’s second book about the further reincarnating adventures of “A Dog’s Journey,” as titled.
While the story of “A Dog’s Purpose” was a worthy tear-jerker especially for dog lovers and pet owners, its overall narrative was somewhat disjointed. With each of his reincarnations Bailey the dog (voiced in all his canine naiveté by Josh Gad) lives a different live with a different owner with somewhat different moods. And while he carries some skills from each past life to help with his next, the plot does not quite have an overarching arc save for his friendship with a Michigan boy named Ethan (Dennis Quaid), who named him Bailey, and their eventual reunion – Ethan an old man and Bailey another breed.
This is not so with “A Dog’s Journey.” There is an immediate and encompassing narrative in the sequel that ties the reincarnating doggie lives together. Sometime after their reunion, Bailey and Ethan are living in the latter’s farm with Ethan’s wife and childhood sweetheart Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), along with Gloria (Betty Gilpin) the widow of their son, and their granddaughter CJ. As a young widowed mother, Gloria is ineptly irresponsible, but her parents-in-law’s well-meaning attempts to help her raise CJ only ends in resentment that pushes her to move away.
By that time Bailey, who grew to befriend CJ as the youngest of his “pack,” was failing from old age. As he gets euthanized in Ethan’s arms his cross-life friend, who has suspicions of his reincarnating lives, asks the dog to look after CJ in his next one. Thus begins the titular journey of Bailey as he experiences new experiences while fortuitously running into CJ at various points in her life, from childhood to young adulthood (Kathryn Prescott). Once again, audiences who see their dogs as “forever friends” are bound to run out of tissues.
Summary aside, what would appeal or turn off viewers of “A Dog’s Journey” would be the same elements that featured in its predecessor over 2 years ago. The movie is viewed from the various eyes and identities of Bailey. While his Josh Gad voice might call to mind Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen,” his sheer doglike/childlike innocence regarding the people and situations around him verges on “blue and orange morality” at times that it can be off-putting. It may have served to make Bailey’s character approachable for young viewers, but still it might grate some nerves.
It is the human cast that we fall on once the dog’s personality wears out. Dennis Quaid is quite charming in reprising his role as Ethan, the boy who made the first meaningful connection with the dog he named Bailey (it is the name he gives him that the dog remembers across different lives and names). Helgenberger takes over Peggy Lipton as Hannah the love of Ethan’s life, though this time her character revolves also on doting upon CJ. The toddler and child portrayals were great but CJ’s primary adult age as played by Prescott was equal parts sweet and mature, independent yet still romantic. Thankfully that is where her childhood friend/love interest Trent (Henry Lau) comes in the tale. Gilpin is remarkably menacing as Gloria, the ungrateful daughter-in-law and pseudo-abusive parent who is actually venting from bereavement and abandonment.
And through it all it is the same (or maybe not breed-wise) dog that can be overbearingly “doggy” that ties their lives together with his reincarnations (less than “A Dog’s Purpose) and actions. At the risk of spoiling I will also say that this serves as a great conclusion to the story of Bailey, though again dog owners will be happy to see this particular forever friend one more time.
Image courtesy of Cinema Blend

“GAME OF THRONES” FINALE Cements Fate of “THE IRON THRONE”

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Writer George R. R. Martin changed the landscape of modern epic medieval fantasy when “A Game of Thrones,” the first book of his series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” was published in 1996. As more books came out, the vivid setting of war-torn Westeros would inspire David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to pitch the idea to Martin about making “ASOIAF” into an HBO series. Said show premiered in April 2011, seeing eight seasons total across just as many years. The concluding 6-episode season 8 premiered last month, and aired its finale this Sunday, ending the saga long before the actual books finish publication.
In a way, naming the swan-song episode of “Game of Thrones” as “The Iron Throne” was rather appropriate for longtime followers of the series (more than the books). The titular royal seat of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros has been the prize of many a noble house looking to put their bloodline upon it, by either marrying into the ruling house or conquest. Ultimately the Iron Throne was restored in this episode to the last survivor of the family that created it to begin with. But the throne also seemingly carries a curse of madness affecting all who claim it.
Nowhere was this most prominent than in Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) who destroyed with dragon-fire the power of her immediate predecessor, the late Cersei Lannister. Unfortunately she succeeded only by burning – the buildings of King’s Landing literally and the support of significant followers and allies figuratively – and cementing her image as a victor by conquest. Even that is not enough now, with Dany spurring her armies to “liberate” the whole known world realm by realm until all are united under her rule. Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) go beyond concerned, to terrified.
It takes a reminder from his sister/cousin Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) to steel Jon for what action he must take now. He knows that, being a legitimate Targaryen himself with a closer claim to the Iron Throne, Daenerys can choose to wed him and unite their house (via traditional Targaryen incest), or destroy him and the North to remove a contender to her throne that has a power base. What happens next is somewhat anticlimactic, barring the fate of the Iron Throne itself. But it does hew to the “Thrones” formula of subverting audience expectations.
Following that, “The Iron Throne” stumbles a bit during the aftermath of the true final conflict of the whole show. The (surviving) Lords of Westeros (with past-season cameos) gather in the ruins of King’s Landing to choose a new ruler. Who gets chosen was apparently leaked weeks earlier, but seeing it happen was just off-putting, especially regarding the character’s state of mind. That said, Isaac Hempstead-Wright does seem to ease up on his role’s now-default emotionlessness. It also leads into the final outcomes for the last survivors of House Stark, the “winners” of the Game of Thrones even while they each go their separate ways.
While everything feels rushed despite the near-movie-length 82-minute episode time, the intercutting scenes of the protagonists as they settle into their final places does manage to elicit some warmth for the show akin to its heyday in earlier seasons. The preceding episode may have dipped in ratings, but with the conclusion in mind, the “D&D” team managed to bring their TV narrative, missing source material from the yet-unpublished books 5 and 6 of “ASOIAF,” to a closing that had problems, but still delivered. And now our 8-year watch has ended.
Image courtesy of Business Insider

Season 16 Returnee LAINE HARDY WINS “AMERICAN IDOL” Season 17

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Sometimes, it is very refreshing to come back to the one that started it all. While reality singing competitions are now a dime a dozen around the world, these better not forget that one of the major pioneers is still going strong. “American Idol,” the US edition of “Pop Idol,” has seen 17 seasons, a rotating succession of judges, and a network hop, with the latest one which started just this past March finally coming to a close this Sunday. In what may have been an appropriate three hours the last three remaining contestants battled it out, with one triumphing.
It would seem “American Idol” has finally settled in nicely in its second network home of ABC, as the finals of season 17 on May 19 saw show repeater Laine Hardy finally make up for his Top 50 elimination in season 16 (2018) by actually winning the whole thing. The Hollywood Reporter has it that Hardy, of Livingston, Louisiana, went head to head to head with Cohos, NY’s Madison VanDenburg and Pomona, CA’s Alejandro Aranda in an intense sing-off for the “Idol” viewership vote, interspersed with about 23 performances with the Top 3 and an awesome selection of music artists.
The Top 3 of “American Idol 17” first sang two songs each to determine the Third Placer. Laine Hardy took full stock of his Louisiana roots with his song selection of Marc Broussard’s Bayou soul number “Home” and Hank William’s “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).” VanDenburg’s offerings of “Shallow” from “A Star is Born” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” would not avail her beyond the second rotation, winning Third while Alejandro Aranda coasted by with his original compositions “Millennial Love” and “Tonight.” For the third rotation a fully confident Hardy performed Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me,” being voted the winner. Aranda, who reprised his original audition piece “Out Loud,” would become the runner up.
Past “American Idol” veterans Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert comprised the now-formula appearance of luminaries from previous seasons. All the judges for the show’s ABC run – Lionel Richie, Luke Perry and Katy Perry, also took their turns on stage. Other performers that Sunday include Daddy Yankee, Montell Jordan, John Pardi, Andra Day, Kane Brown, Dan + Shay, plus bands Kool & the Gang and Weezer.
ABC has assured that there will be an “American Idol” season 18 sometime next year. However, both the judges and host Ryan Seascrest are said to be negotiating for their coming back for more. Nothing yet has been finalized regarding their return for “Idol 18.”
Image courtesy of Yahoo News

First TRAILER Out for THE CW’s “Batwoman” Starring RUBY ROSE

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For DC and Warner Bros., when the former’s major superhero characters must be interpreted in live-action, then it is best that they appear in big-budget blockbuster movies. It is not common for them to be depicted in live-action TV nowadays, even if their alter egos might appear. During the heyday of “Smallville” Clark Kent only became Superman in the series finale, for the final scene. His superhero name was not even mentioned. The same went for “Gotham” on Fox. Bruce Wayne only became Batman in the finale, his hero identity was not mentioned, and the studio had to create its own Bat-costume to feature him.
The same deal will be going on in the latest superhero installment of the “Arrow-verse” on The CW. What more can be added to a setting with a Modern-Day Robin Hood, the Fastest Man Alive, the Man of Steel’s cousin and a team of time-travelling heroes? How about the Dark Knight’s cousin, “Batwoman”? E! Online has it that The CW has just launched their first official trailer for the new series, starring Australian MTV VJ, model and actress Ruby Rose. It follows up from the “Elseworlds” multi-series crossover across the “Arrow-verse” franchise from last year.
Like most trailers, this one establishes the initial situation of the lead character while delving into his backstory. Kate Kane (Rose) is a drifting street-fighter whose promising career in the military is ruined at the academy when she outs herself as a lesbian. At the request of a friend she comes to Gotham City, where Batman has disappeared for years, her cousin Bruce Wayne has closed up his company and left town, and her father Jacob (Dougray Scott), a retired Colonel, is helping keep the peace with his private security outfit the Crows.
When a criminal gang becomes too troublesome for the Crows, Kate stumbles into the closed-up Wayne Enterprises HQ, and with the help of its security guard Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), she discovers her cousin’s secret and takes up his mantle – after making the costume fit a woman.
A significant advantage Ruby Rose had in casting for the part of Batwoman was that, like the DC Comics character, she herself came out as lesbian (at age 12) and currently identifies as gender-fluid. Rose also thinks the current time and circumstances are right to adapt “Batwoman” into live-action TV. “There’s a lot in there that I think viewers can watch at any age group and find people to identify with and get solace out of that or inspiration or just feel like they’re not the only person that’s like that and that’s super important,” she says of the show.
“Batwoman” also stars Meagan Tandy, Nicole Kang, Rachel Skarstein, and Elizabeth Anweis. “Arrow-verse” creative force Greg Berlanti and Caroline Dreis are developing the series, which has been picked up by The CW this May. No premiere date has been scheduled.
Image from Super Hero Hype