Sunday, December 29, 2019


  • Here are my favorite films from the past ten years. It's by no means a list of all the films I've enjoyed, but just some of the top rated films of the deades and th ones that have stood out the most for me. It's also been a couple of challenging years, and this blog has stood as a decades worth of reviews in theater, books, wrestling, and ESPECIALLY films.

    Image result for hateful eight

  • The Shape of Water
  • Moana
  • Evil Dead
  • It
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Isle of Dogs
  • A Quiet Place
  • Green Room
  • Get Out
  • The World's End
  • The Endless
  • One Cut of the Dead
  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Victor Crowley
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Annihilation
  • Mandy
  • Aquaman
  • The Witch
  • Deadpool
  • Dave Made a Maze
  • Frozen
  • Train to Busan
  • Don't Breathe
  • Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
  • Crimson Peak
  • John Dies at the End
  • The Babadook
  • WolfCop
  • It Follows


Friday, December 20, 2019

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (Some spoilers at the end: will WARN)


It hits the screen in bold print, and the big spoiler is that the Emperor is back and he intends to burn the entire galaxy to a cinder. Everyone is afraid, the Resistance is desperate, and Kylo Ren is on the hunt for the man who could threaten his power. After having been written into a corner by Rian Johnson, JJ Abrams is forced to rush several answers to The Force Awakens lingering questions: Who is Snoke? Well, there are a couple dozen "Snoke" clones rotting in a few vats. What secrets did Vader promise Kylo Ren? No, it was the Emperor. Who is pulling all the strings here? It's the Phantom Menace himself, who Kylo meets within the film's opening moments. How did he survive? I think the real question is whether he really did survive... I'm not even sure that's an important matter when telling the story here. He is back.

Rey, meanwhile, has continued her training with Leia. In what, to me, was one of the more awkward disappointments in the film- Leia's footage is obviously cobbled together from unused footage taken during The Force Awakens. There's no way of getting around this: It's not the performance she would have delivered and the actors were trapped acting opposite footage that was clearly meant for other scenes.

But all is not awkward cuts and pulpy returns- Finn, Poe, and Rey must race to find Palpatine, and to do that they need a device, and to find the device they have to race across the Galaxy. The cast is on a mission in a last second leap to save the galaxy. And, I'll be honest, I wish we had this character dynamic to play with earlier in this new trilogy.  I like these three- they have humor, compassion, warmth, and a general sense of camaraderie. And Rey is faced with setbacks, trauma, and an actual character arc in this film!

The relationship between Rey and Kylo is the statement that this film tries to make. The effect they have on one another, the reason they are drawn to one another, and I thought it worked. I thought it was built throughout the film and was one of the few things that wasn't rushed for the sake of making up for lost time. And, I may be a sucker, but the film's finale- from the battle in the upper atmosphere of a planet to the battle below, was pure pulp goodness and made me happy.

8 out of 10




There is a lot of seedy hate on this film. The last film pretty much divided the fandom straight down the middle and I thought it wrote the third film into a corner. But this film does attempt to course correct on many of the things Rian Johnson did WRONG. A Jedi's weapon deserves more respect, an actual arc for Rey and some reason why she is being pulled so strongly by the darkside, the importance of actual STAKES when it comes to the First Order, some kind of answer on who Snoke was supposed to be, a general sense of respect for the fans of both previous trilogies.

Also: Neither my wife or son picked up on this- But did ANYONE pick up that Finn and the rebelling Stormtroopers were all Force Sensitive? They planted that seed way back in TFA, but it finally saw some fruit in this movie. But my wife didn't pick up on it and it may have been too subtle- drop a line if you picked up on this. I'd like to know if I'm not the only one. 

Okay, there's a lot of negativity online about this movie and a bunch of Frequently Made Complaints. So I thought I'd offer my perspective on many of them.

1. No, this does not attempt to wash away, erase, or in any way diminish the legacy of OT or the destiny of Vader. Anakin Skywalker brought balance to the Force. He destroyed the Jedi, he destroyed the Sith, and he destroyed the Emperor. His return does not diminish those acts or that trilogy and Rey is NOT the "chosen" one. Her story is not of Destiny fulfilled, but that of Destiny denied.

2. "shipping"- I hate that phrase. But let's address it here- Rey and Kylo were drawn to one another since the first film and his eventual redemption had to have a pay-off. Did I want them to have a relationship? Wouldn't have bothered me if they didn't- but I'm also not going to shit on this story arc because it makes sense from the threads begun in TFA.

3: "shipping vol.2" - I still hate that phrase- WHY THE HELL DID ANYONE THINK POE AND FINN SHOULD BE A COUPLE?!?!! Two guys can have a perfectly fine relationship of respect and friendship without sex being involved. So could two people of the opposite sex. It doesn't actually serve the story- so why? Whatever... I wish the film had closed with the two of them holding hands as the twin suns set in the distance. But I'm a softy.

4. The Return of the Emperor: Did you know that George Lucas did Star Wars because he couldn't do Flash Gordon? Did you know that Emperor Ming was killed at the end of each Serial before finally being killed for good in the last serial? You know why? Because he's Ming the Merciless!!! Star Wars isn't Shakespeare in the Park... this is based on serials and pulp space opera so expect bad guys to come back when they're thrown down dark tunnels. Also... sorry, not sorry, a fucking planet of goddamn SITH clones???

5. "Representation"- It's a word that was kind of flung out there and is getting some traction regarding a kiss between a homosexual couple in the film's final moments. Some people are upset that it's happening at all (Those are homophobes) and others feel as though it's mere tokenism. I don't really have a horse in this race- but I will say that the character was a major supporting character in the past two films and a high ranking member of the Resistance. Doing a brief google search on the actress, I'm pretty sure she is very proud to have been shown providing that representation in the Star Wars universe and I don't think people need to be kissing every moment to show that they are, in fact, homosexual. (Side story; a gay friend of mine in a play we were in was told to act "more gay", to his shock and astonishment and lamented "Should I suck someone's dick or something?".)


Not a perfect film, but enjoyable. But I did have one lingering question when a certain actor popped up as if he had been in the trilogy the whole time... "Get that fucking hobbit out of my Star Wars!"

Monday, November 11, 2019


I have a "love/hate" relationship with Stephen King. When he's on, he is definitely on... but when he's off, It's just hard as heck to continue reading or watching his movies. And while many people were excited to see King revisit the character of Danny Torrance, the novel never piqued my interest enough to try and read the book. I was aware of it, I knew it existed, and several friends gave it some high praise... but pass.

Fast forward a few years and Doctor Sleep is adapted into a film directed by Mike Flannagan. Mike's no stranger to King, having previously adapted Gerald's Game for Netflix. He has a few movies under his belt and the man knows what he's doing with a camera- he can build up suspense with the best of them and he isn't afraid to paint the screen red.

Billed as a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep reintroduces us to an adult Danny Torrance who is struggling to cope with the trauma and aftermath of the incidents that took place in the Overlook Hotel. He strikes up a strange communication with a girl (Abra- played by Kileigh Curran) who has the Shine, just as he did when he was a child. She, in turn, has managed to gain the attention of a wandering group of Psychic Vampires who feast on the life energy of those with the Shine.

The movie isn't "bad", per se. The action sequences are well shot, they do a semi-decent job in building the tension and setting an atmosphere. Unfortunately, whether through the choice of King or the adapters of the film, young Abra is never in any real peril. She's smarter, stronger, and far more powerful then any of her would-be assailants. A sinister Rose the Hat (Rebeca Ferguson) is repeatedly foiled by the crafty girl and is repeatedly battered. There is nothing scary about the monsters of the film once Abra gets involved, and even Danny's ultimate decision to revisit the Overlook seemed meaningless to the story and only served to bring his character a sense of closure.

6 out of 10.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Halloween Horror FilmFest: The Rules

My wife is a patient, loving, and caring soul. But she really is not really backing me up on my annual tradition, and that's okay. But one of the things that frustrates her is that my movie picks are often confusing, she is also frustrated with my flat out refusing to watch some movies, and she simply doesn't understand THE RULES.

UNO: Films that specifically take place during Halloween are all eligible, regardless of genre.
(Arsenic and Old Lace, et al)

TWO-O: Horror films that have no set time period may also be eligible.
(Alien, et al.)

THREE-P-O: Films with a dark supernatural flair may also be eligible with caveats.
* I call this the Ghost rule, because it's not horror but it has ghosts.*

FOUR-E-O-E-O: the following traits disqualify a film : Any other holiday (Other than Friday the 13th which CAN occur during the fall).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Some Reviews... short and sweet. Halloween Fest 2019


A fairly standard and formulaic horror flick. A couple of teens head out to the local "haunted" house where they are systematically killed by the ghost of a Witch that had died some hundred or more years prior. Look, the story wasn't all that compelling but the film wasn't actually very bad. Nor was it very good. It was just sort of there and was a decent hour and a half spent for a horror fan. There's no reinvention of the wheel, here.

5 out of 10.


Is the game over? Is there an escape?

The monsters are coming... one after the other, the monsters will come and they will kill them all, one after the other. When Kayla wakes up in a box, she finds herself the target of a hunt. But she's not the only one, as other women are also waking up locked in boxes and being hunted by masked maniacs. Each maniac is linked to the victims in a way that is revealed through the film.

High gore meter ups the ante of what looked like a fairly standard torture-porn slasher flick. The film makers probably thought they were making some sort of statement regarding misogyny, but I think they missed the mark and wanted the film to be more than it was. But as a fun gory romp, the movie delivers on the goods.

8.5 out of 10.


Around this time last year I was watching "Gerald's Game" on Netflix. And this year they repeated the success of that film with another King adaptation, though this one also receives a co-writer credit from King's son, Joe Hill. The two crafted a brilliantly claustrophobic story that could almost happen to anyone- getting lost in a field of tall grass. But there's something dark about this field, something very twisted, and everything becomes lost in this film where neither time nor space continue to play by the rules.

And if there is one thing I love, it's the twisting reality of cosmic horror and the fear of the unknown.
Vincent Natali is no stranger to claustrophobia, having previously explored the subject in Cube. He masterfully take advantage of the surrounding field and builds on the suspense endangering the pregnant Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted). While trying to help a young boy find his way out of the field, they find themselves separated and hopelessly lost. But most of the film's menace comes from the boys father, unnervingly played by Patrick Wilson.

If you're looking for a pretty decent halloween jaunt, this one won't lead you astray.

8 out of 10.


 Some sort of gator-croc-humanoid hybrid thing that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Over acted, underfunded, and unfortunately available on Amazon Prime this creature feature makes the Asylum films look like big budget Hollywood features. A small town sheriff has to contend with devious scientists, distraught(?) parents, crooked politicians, and a monstrous creature of dubious origins. Ancient Indian rituals are involved, so is toxic waste, so is genetic experimentation, as is medical testing, and the list goes on- and people are incapable of speaking like actual humans while reciting lines written by someone who has definitely seen the movie JAWS a few times in his life.

You can skip this one unless you really enjoy bad creature flicks.

2 out of 10


Adding to my Halloween 2019 list, I'm not entirely certain how I managed to miss this entertaining vampire romp from across the pond but I'm glad I found it streaming on Amazon Prime tonight. Charlie Cox (Daredevil), Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who), and Eve Myles (Torchwood) are among the well established cast fanging it up in this campy horror-comedy.

Every fifty years or so, this small council of vampires meet to discuss old feuds, territory, debate food quotas, and vote on new members to the council. On this evening, there will be a few unexpected guests and arrivals. Primarily, the group is introduced to a young Romani man (Billy Cook) brought in as a guest by the seductress, Vanessa (Eve Myles, noted above). And then, a group of vampire hunters waiting in ambush surrounding the farmhouse where the group is meeting.

Who you root for throughout the film may change throughout various moments, as we get to know all of the characters involved. Peppered with the rather typical dry British humor you might expect, the film doesn't flinch from the grue and gore that horror fans just love to see.

Satisfying 7 out of 10.

Keep up on the rest of my 31 Days of Halloween Horror Flicks through Letterboxd.


And as always, feel free to leave comments below. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ready or Not!

Count to one hundred Mississippi's while I find a neat little place to tuck myself in. Which is exactly what I did a few weeks later than intended and certainly a bit more lonelier than I expected. But with an early bird ticket at the local theater, I found myself alone in an empty theater as the music played and the credits rolled- and I fucking loved this movie!

Firstly, let's get the preliminaries out of the way. Grace (Samara Weaving) is set to marry into the incredibly wealthy Le Domas Family "Dominion" by marrying younger son Alex (Mark O'Brien). It's the event of the season and the whole family is there to celebrate the nuptials. Alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody) seems to be the only family member still on speaking terms with the rebellious Alex. Mother (Andie MacDowell) is just happy to have her son back and the rest of the family is eager to start the evening's festivities which always includes a game to be played whenever someone marries into the family. The game is never planned in advance and Grace must pick a card from a mysterious box, and when she pulls "Hide and Seek" the world might as well have dropped out on her.

You see, the Le Domas family has a secret pact with a mysterious being and picking THAT card means that she has to hide while the rest of the family tries to hunt her down and kill her. And while it may be cliche to say, hilarity does ensue. When a maid is accidentally killed, it tips off the bride to the truth and her husband fills her in on the rest of the details as he tries to get her out of the house and to relative safety. (Pun intended) But all is not a clear cut path for our lovers, as revelations expose more family secrets and consequences for both wife and husband.

Samara Weaving OWNS the screen from start to finish. She's working up quite the genre resume the past few years and is no less astounding and downright charming in this story. Which is good, because we really need to cheer for Grace throughout the film. But we also wind up cheering for one other character, Adam Brody instills pathos and depth to Daniel, giving us a brilliantly layered performance throughout the film. He could have just coasted on one-liners and odd jabs here and there, but this is the one Le Domas family member who truly seems to understand Grace's humanity and the lack of that humanity in the rest of the family.

10 out of 10, a perfect film for me with great energy throughout.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

It: Chapter Two

Pennywise returns and the brings the gang all back together.  It's been 27 years since the "Losers Club" had defeated Pennywise, but the evil clown returns to wreak more chaos. So the calls go out and the children, now all growed up, return to their hometown and prepare to do battle once more with the terrifying entity that lurks beneath the cursed town. And while the events of the previous film may still hin bright in my mind, the minds of the other "Losers' don't have the same luxury as most don't even know why they feel such a compulsion to return. They've all (With the exception of Mike Hanlon) forgotten many of the events of the previous film and must now recall those events in order to stand a chance against the evil clown.

But Pennywise hasn't forgotten them. In fact, he's eager for their return and spends the rest of the film reminding them just why they should be terrified. Bill Skarsgard is still chilling and creepy as the monstrous clown. But he's also licking his wounds from that previous loss and the gloves are coming off this time. He doesn't waste much time in peppering his meals with fear, and goes for the gruesome horror with a vicious thirst for carnage. He opens the film with a brutal killing after picking an already brutalized victim- CRUNCH!!! He devours the poor victim with glee as he forces someone else to watch, completely helpless.

We receive several flashbacks featuring new scenes with the older cast, but that often serves to confuse the current story and undermines the stakes. And, with the exception of Hayder, Chastain, and James Ransone, the rest of the cast don't really succeed in capturing the same camaraderie that made the first film so successful.  James McAvoy doesn't really capture the spirit of the original film's "Bill" and seems less charismatic and connected with the rest of the cast. It's a small downbeat, however as the direction and storytelling is pure nightmare fuel.

But the film does a truly terrific job in reflecting the most horrible of terrors- that there's no going back. That once innocence is gone, it is gone forever. It was the major underlying theme of the original novel and the film reflects that theme beautifully. The now adult members of the Club face that reality as they wander the town and face their previous traumas and the terrors they thought they'd left behind. 

Let's get to the elephant in the room- the film opens with a moment that seems to be causing a bit of a ruckus on social media and includes a subtle change to one of the films' main protagonists. This opening and the character alteration are gaining some steam with the LGBTQ community with accusations of homophobia and bigotry. For what it's worth? I'm not  member of that community and can't speak to the offensive nature of the material- what I can say is that I thought the opening scene was horrific and spoke to real life terror that community may face. I felt the change was subtle and built a tasteful arc for the character, though probably wasn't a necessary change when all was said and done.

There is, however, an even deeper change that troubled me in the film's final narrative. One of the Losers is unable to make the reunion and leaves a letter- the letter offers an explanation that undermines the lingering terror IT leaves behind. It was a little frustrating to have the post script, but it made sense with the ending that the director likely intended. 

9 out of 10 and a definite recommend.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

STAGEPLAY: Halfway to Hell


An original stageplay.

Sofia Peterson is an ex-con fresh out of prison. Adapting to life on the outside will be difficult, to say the least. But she's moving into an old halfway house with a haunting atmosphere and bible-thumping landlady who walks and talks in her sleep. Her parole officer is a scumbag and the only friend she's managed to make has a history of mental illness and drug addiction.

This gothic horror story is ideal for the Winter season, featuring an intended cast of primarily mature women, HALFWAY TO HELL is mind-bending horror in the tradition of the best ghost stories.

Monday, August 12, 2019

STAGEPLaY: An Adaptation of The Dunwich Horror by HP Lovecraft

The Dunwich Horror: A Stageplay

This may never be produced, but I have sat on it for a couple of years and hoped to one day find a place with which to put it on display. I t would make a great regional production for Halloween... but I currently lack the funds. So I'm putting on here so that my readers might have a chance to read it-

This is an adaptation for the stage. It is not an original work. If anyone would be interested in performance rights, the only thing I ask for is credit in the program. HP Lovecraft has been a huge inspiration for me and I wouldn't actually feel right about profiting from what many consider to be one of his greatest works. I also have no copyright on any of the characters or on the plot in general.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

ZATOICHI and Shintaro Katsu

Several years ago, around 2004, I discovered Samurai Chambara (sword fighting) Films with nearly everyone's usual introduction- Akira Kurosawa. He'd been named a heavy influence on some of my favorite film-makers and my (future) wife introduced me to The Seven Samurai. I'd never seen such an epic and masterful tale of honor, loyalty, respect, duty, and dignity. And while I had seen the American Western remake, The Magnificent Seven, it truly did pale in comparison to the original. And so began a fascination with Chambara films-

Zatoichi is a blind swordsman and part of the Yakuza tradition during the Edo period of Japan. He makes his living as a masseur and/or as a gambler. He carries a cane sword and his flashing blade is often quicker than the eye can follow. He is a skilled warrior- and an often cheerful and unassuming champion to the downtrodden. Thematically, Zatoichi is about a flawed and sentimental hero trying to bring justice in a world threatened by corruption and tyranny.

Oh, and there are 26 films in the series.

And a television series.

And two additional films made several years after the original actor's passing...

And a live stage show directed by Takashi Miike.

I spent the month of July viewing 25 of the films, currently streaming on the Criterion Collection streaming service. That's 25 of the original films... 1989's "Zatoichi, Darknless is his only Ally" was unavailable. This last film also had a lot of very negative associations- the films villain, played by Shintaro Katsu's son, had accidentally killed a man during filming when a prop sword was mistakenly replaced with the real thing.

The Twenty Five original films are too staggering a task to review one after the other and that was not my intent when I undertook the task. They all follow similar formulas and features the same actor playing the role all 25 times, with several plots borrowing liberally from one another. Zatoichi delivers children to absent parents some distance away after the untimely death of one parent a number of times, helps maidens' pay off their family debts to the corrupt yakuza or government official, and usually befriends another skilled swordsman that he will face in a climactic battle toward the film's climax. The formula itself isn't bad, despite it's occasional repetition. In fact, it's often charming and comforting to know that Zatoichi is getting into the same bowl of trouble again and again.

Shintaro Katsu is a skilled performer who has a bit of a reputation as a bit of a "bad boy' in Japanese Cinema. The son of a Kabuki performer, Katsu was classically trained as a Shamisen player, and it was the influence of his blind teacher that acted as the inspiration for his performance as the folk hero of the series. He was the focus of a documentary on Japanese film making, where an American in Japan followed three Directors with vastly different styles in order to show-case the direction of that regions film industry. Katsu Productions was started when Daiei Studios shut down.

Zatoichi starts with "The Tale of Zatoichi" and never really finds an ending- though the twenty-fifth film in the series would see Zatoichi return to the town of his birth and have him defend it from a child-hood friend in "Zatoichi's Conspiracy". Notable films for me have been "Zatoichi's Flashing Sword", "Fight, Zatoichi, Fight", "Zatoichi and the Chess Expert", "Zatoichi's Cane Sword", and "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo".

"Zatoichi Challenged" also served as a basis for the American remake, "Blind Fury" in which Rutger Hauer plays a blind swordsman who lost his vision during the Vietnam conflict.

But my favorite in the series, and it's saying a lot, is "Zatoichi at the Fire Festival" in which the Blind Swordsman goes against another Blind Yakuza boss. It is one of the most intense, brutal, and exciting films in the long-running series and places the swordsman in peril. He is betrayed, lured into various traps, and the scheme is clever. Zatoichi's reputation finally catches up with him and he is not as underestimated as he had been in previous films.

Zatoichi is a treasure to Japanese cinema and Katsu is a charismatic wonder in the role. Take advantage of the opportunity wherever and whenever it arises to catch some of these beautiful Chambara films.

1 The Tale of Zatoichi 1962

2 The Tale of Zatoichi Continues

3 New Tale of Zatoichi 1963

4 Zatoichi The Fugitive

5 Zatoichi on the Road

6 Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold 1964

7 Zatoichi's Flashing Sword

8 Fight, Zatoichi, Fight

9 Adventures of Zatoichi

10 Zatoichi's Revenge 1965

11 Zatoichi and the Doomed Man

12 Zatoichi and the Chess Expert

13 Zatoichi's Vengeance 1966

14 Zatoichi's Pilgrimage

15 Zatoichi's Cane Sword 1967

16 Zatoichi the Outlaw

17 Zatoichi Challenged

18 Zatoichi and the Fugitives 1968

19 Samaritan Zatoichi

20 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo 1970

21 Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival

22 Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman 1971

23 Zatoichi at Large 1972

24 Zatoichi in Desperation

25 Zatoichi's Conspiracy 1973

26 Zatoichi: Darkness Is His Ally

Monday, July 22, 2019

L5R Fifth Edition

My son has recently fallen in love with Rokugan after playing a few sessions of the second edition game that I ran for a game store. But he wanted the latest edition, and finally whittled us down to pay for the new Beginner's Box Set I, myself, was always stuck running the games since I started playing in 2001 and made a condition be that he ran the game and let me play as a character only helping a little with the rules. (He's just turned 14)

So our usual gaming group got together this past weekend and picked our characters, with me picking Isawa Aki. At first I thought it strange the Shugenja didnt have access to any spells, but was intrigued with the role-playing aspects of the character as we entered the town. I decided to play her as overly talkative, very arrogant, sweetly condescending, and superior in every way. As the other characters scrambled to help this poor peasant upright his cart, I stood to the side and questioned him and examined the road for what must have done this terrible thing that would inconvenience us in such a way. To learn this was a servant to the house of the recently deceased Emerald Champion was very concerning.

Next, we watched as a Mantis attempted to bully the local innkeeper into renting him a room. While he may have been Samurai, he was merely a minor Clan representative. Doji-san, however, had a personal stake in the matter. He truly did not wish to share a roof with such a man. There may have been some personal malice involved, not that Isawa Aki would have been interested in such petty matters. But we were later visited by an honored spirit who tasked us with watching out for the young mantis, and perhaps even protecting his life. Such is the way of things I suppose. I was grateful for the opportunity myself.

Then came the trials themselves, and of course the first would be a display of physical skill and intense personal combat. We were given advice from our judges, but when Aki stood across from the well-fed monster that stood across the ring she understood she could either lose gracefully or give her all and try to shock her opponent into a misstep. So she charged with all she was worth, screaming "BANZAI!!!" in a very unseemly manner... truly, it caused her much embarrassment but did succeed in unnerving her opponent who staggered back at the sight of the frail shugenja charging toward him. Though she gave her best during the trials that relied on her skill and superior approach, she fell back on pure moxie to overcome her perceived weakness.

Emotionally drained after the contests, Aki and her companions found themselves in a nearby Sake House where the charming Phoenix toasted to the lasting friendships that would be born through these trials and struggles. Unfortunately some ill mannered Ronin approached their table, and after a series of personal insults the proud Phoenix could no longer bear the strain of the days activities. Falling silent, tears spilling from her features, Aki was the first to lash out violently and smashed her staff into the teeth of the offending Ronin. With nothing but pure pluck and a distinct lack of true skill, she next sent her staff into a crippling blow that took out another Ronin's knee. The rest threw down their weapons at the command of the Lion, and the Samurai were able to retire for the evening. 
I truly enjoyed the new system and found a lot of potential in it. I guess finding additional dice sets for the other players will be difficult as we had to share the single set among five players and a GM. None of us took damage so we're a little confused regarding how that will work when it happens, but it feels mostly straightforward. While Aki seemed to be focused on casting spells, she had no spells to cast until we were told to level up our characters. My son, who has struggled to run a few previous game systems found this one fun and easy to maintain pacing on. So we're looking forward to later sessions.

MECHANICS: Utilizing a "roll and keep" engine, the latest L5R changes things up by relying on unique custom dice to determine results. No longer using numbers, the results vary between "Success", "Opportunity", "Strife", and "Explosive Success" randomly distributed between Ring Dice (6 sided)and Skill (12 sided) dice. Characters roll a number of dice equal to their rating in the given Ring or Skill, keeping a number of those dice equal to the Ring number. The results are less "Success vs failure" but precisely HOW one succeeds and fails. Some results are a combination of both success and "Strife". 

Strife is the most interesting element of the game. In keeping with the tradition of Samurai drama, it is very important for them to maintain their dignity and stoicism. Often the greatest struggle is the one within the Samurai- watch Yojimbo, 7 Samurai, or even Lone Wolf and Cub to see the way th Samurai maintain their "face" and what happens when the emotions are too much to contain- whether good or bad. Strife accumulates, building stress until the characters are forced to react in an emotional manner that reveals the Samurai's true Face to the world. An embarrassing loss of glory and honor can result. 

Opportunity is another interesting aspect that allows the players to add a few narrative pieces and gain non-successful advantages that will do little to affect a task but will result in some interesting moments. We struggled with this element a slight bit, but did try to explore the possibilities. (In the above, I had rolled two explosive successes and an opportunity with strife, allowing me to add the shocked and somewhat impressed reactions of the judges during the wrestling scene.)