Ozark (2018) reviewed

I’d been streaming Ozark for some time and have wrapped up the viewing early this week. The series derives its title from the Missouri Ozarks, where a family of four converge to launder money. Jason Bateman stars as Marty White, with strong support from Laura Linney (Wendy Bryde), Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) and other talented actors. Three seasons have been completed, each numbering ten episodes. These individual eps range from 52 to 80 minutes. Ozark’s theme and premise have been compared to Breaking Bad and Narcos. The programme is one of Netflix’s most popular shows. The series is currently in production for its fourth and final season.  

Season 1 (2017)

The first thing you notice about the show is the perpetually overcast weather. Perhaps this is always the case in the Missouri Ozarks. The second thing you’ll grasp is the show’s unusual intro, featuring a big letter O with the characters z-a-r-k within. The latter four letters are always different images. The series starts in Chicago, where Marty lives with his family. He owns an accounting firm and launders money for the Navarro cartel. Del, a lieutenant in the organisation, pays them a visit. He understands that Marty’s workmates have been stealing money. He kills off the entire firm, but Marty gets a deal: he has to launder $500 million in five years. Marty is able to walk away with the promise of being a ‘washing machine’ in the Ozarks.

He then sells off all his assets to pay back the $8 million which his pals have nicked. He also learns that his wife is unfaithful to him, which ends badly for her lover boy. Having moved to the Ozarks, Marty immediately takes stock of his new surroundings. By season’s end, he manages to be a silent partner in a few legitimate businesses. These include a strip club, a funeral home, and the Blue Cat Inn. Shortly upon arrival, he meets Ruth Langmore. Initially, the lass is intent on terminating him and running off with the dough, but cooler heads prevail. She then becomes Byrde’s right-hand. While initially confused about the sudden move, Byrde’s children get the low-down on their disguise.

They meet the Snells, who grow poppies. The two sides clash, as Marty’s expansion threatens the Snell’s bread and butter. Charlotte, Marty’s kid, hangs out with Wyatt, Ruth’s cousin. Marty acts as go-between as the cartel tries to make a deal with the Snells. However, things take a deadly turn when Del insults the latter. This all transpires as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) keeps tabs on the Brydes. Agent Petty even manages to get some snitches against Marty, but his investigation makes little progress.  

Season 2 (2018)

The second season introduces a new party into the equation: the Kansas City mafia. Marty believes that a casino would solve many of his problems. However, he has to have a few things fall into place before the magic can happen. He needs senate approval to open a new casino in the state. The Brydes then have to deal with a lobbyist in his glasshouse. His clout per se could swing the voting in their favour. Through a bit of blackmail, cajoling, and some blind luck, the casino gets approved. In the aftermath though, a state senator falls on his sword.  

Ruth’s father, Cade, is released from prison. He soon becomes a headache with his vices, demands, and domineering personality. Later in the season, Charlotte lets it be known that she wants to emancipate. The family’s drama tires her, and she wants out. We are also introduced to Helen Pierce, the cartel’s in-house lawyer. She is the main negotiator this time between the cartel and the Snells. Marty manages to secure the land from the Snells and they become dispensable.

As a side note, the Snells almost got their operation outed. Wendy helped burned the poppy field. However, the Bureau team managed to find bones from plantation. By swapping these fragments with the Snell’s ancestors, the cartel was able to get them out of trouble. At season’s end, Marty devises a plan for his family to retire from their business. Once the casino is up and running, he intends to bring his family to the Gold Coast. However, Wendy nixes this plan and convinces him that this scenario is the best possible one. Wyatt, unsure despite a uni offer, learns from Ruth that she’s responsible for both his father and uncle’s demise. He becomes fed up with the family and leaves. Agent Petty is killed, and Cade Langmore gets his comeuppance.

Season 3 (2020)

Following the explosive end to season two, the latest instalment sees the Byrde family thriving with their new casino. However, with great progress comes great challenges. The FBI audits the Byrde’s casino and lingers in their business. Charlotte reneges on her emancipation demand but dictates that her parents attend counselling. The couple therapy is a farce with Marty secretly paying off Sue Shelby to side with him during discussions. When Wendy counters with her own bribe, Marty gives Sue a lump sum final payment to keep mum on their illicit dealings. Soon, she is going about in a luxury sportscar. This doesn’t bode well with Helen, who has her eliminated. A Kansas mobster attacks Ruth. She is furious that Marty wouldn’t terminate her assailant. Wyatt becomes involved with Darlene Snell.

We are introduced to Erin, Helen’s rebellious teen daughter. Erin lives with her father and brother in Chi-town. She eventually learns about her mother’s disguise after Ben confronts them. The latter develops a relationship with Ruth but soon relapses. Without the right routine, he morphs into the Incredible Hulk. In effect, the season reminded me of early Six Feet Under. Billy, Brenda’s brother, was just as difficult as Ben. He also dated Claire Fisher but, soon after, became unravelled. The latter half of the third canto was heartbreaking. It also shows that Wendy’s a toughie, as if that wasn’t obvious enough. She has also been in direct contact with Omar Navarro, the head honcho. Throughout the third instalment, she has been championing the cause of expansion. Her desires to purchase a second casino has courted trouble during the aforementioned counselling sessions. The end sees three main characters going to Mexico to meet Navarro. Only two of them will survive.

Compelling

Acting-wise, Julia Garner shines with two Primetime Emmy’s. Meanwhile, Bateman has found his mark as part-time director. He earned himself an Emmy for directing. Critical acclaim has met all three seasons. Some of the actors have grown on the show, including the Byrde children. Throughout the series, the eye-catching Ozarks are featured. Characters have even made use of boats to showcase the lush greenery and serene waterways.

The programme’s humanity is what appealed to me. The characters have their own quirks and flaws, and you could well relate to them. Though the eps are around an hour in length, there’s fairly a lot of going on. You wouldn’t feel the runtime. The fourth season would be fourteen eps altogether. These will be divided into two parts of seven eps apiece. I’m glad I walked into Ozark. With a balanced mix of impassioned drama and compelling action, the series lives up to the hype.

Rating: 4.55/5

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April (2021) reads

This April has been throwback month for me. Stephen King’s Later is the first entry on the list. While it was set in the present, as noted, the title is part of Hard Case Crime. The next read is Baldacci’s latest, the second instalment in his Aloysius Archer series. The work takes place in 1949, with retro cars, outfits, and landlines. Finally, Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines rounds out this month’s finds. The classic transpires in the Australian outback and once again reaffirms Chatwin’s status as a revolutionary writer. For the uninitiated, this travel book was published in 1987. This volume is notable for utilising a hybrid style.

  1. Later (Stephen King). The prolific writer’s latest offering is part of Hard Case Crime, a series of hard-boiled detective crime novels evoking the pulp fiction of the fifties. The protagonist, Jamie Conklin, could see dead people. His mother, Tia, owns a literary agency and they lived in chic Park Avenue. However, the global financial crisis hit them hard. She supports his Uncle Harry, who stays in a retirement home. Precedently, the latter owned the agency. Jamie’s gift was a secret between him and his mum. However, Liz – who was his mum’s lover – becomes privy to the mystery.

Regis Thomas has been the duo’s lone saving grace, with his Roanoke series. However, he suddenly drops dead while working on the climax of his series. His mother then instructs Jamie to pluck the story from the dead man. She then proceeds to ghost-write the finale. Liz was there at the scene as they coaxed the plot from Mr. Thomas. The book was met with acclaim and becomes a bestseller. Liz, having learned of Jamie’s uncanny knack, ‘abducts’ him to seek out Thumper, a dead bomber. Liz never gets the credit she so craves but leaves a pesky ghost to haunt Jamie. The latter gains the help of a former neighbour, Mr. Burkett, who instructs him to perform the Ritual of Chud. While the rite works, Mr. Burkett dies before Jamie spills the details face-to-face.

Life is peachy for the Conklin’s, with Liz and her dodgy dealings out of the picture. However, the latter blackmails Jamie one fine afternoon. She convinces him to force the massive baron to point out the details of a major shipment. While out of cards in the executive’s house, Jamie evokes the ghost of Thumper, who saves the day before bedtime but not before unleashing a horror within. There is one final twist before the plot ends. The book gets its title from the author’s proclivity in using the word ‘later.’ This is a worthwhile introduction into Hard Case Crime. With 69 sections over 248 pages, a bibliophile may only need two full days.

Rating: 4.4/5

  • A Gambling Man (Baldacci). Aloysius Archer returns in another period thriller. Following the events in Paco City, Archer – the wannabe detective – travels west. He stops at Reno, Nevada, where he meets Liberty Callahan, a lass who dreams of making it in Hollywood. Archer wins big at the casino after betting correctly and parlays his earnings into purchasing a vintage sportscar. After running into some trouble in Reno, Archer and Callahan agree to drive to California. Along the way, they meet riffraff who joined them from Nevada. Despite the setback, they trudge on.

Archer is intent on reaching Bay Town, where he yearns to be a shamus. His former associate in Paco City had recommended Willie Dash, who is a private detective. The aspiring mayor, Douglas Kemper, hires them to keep an eye on his enemies. Meanwhile, Liberty tries out at Midnight Moods and seems to be a natural. However, as Archer’s investigation gets under way, the murders begin. A dancer at the club and Kemper’s campaign manager are both killed. There is also a mysterious island three miles out that figures into this mayhem. Dash and Archer continue asking questions, which lead to more slayings, this time a doctor and the elevator sentry. The dynamic duo gets closer to unmasking the truth. They realise that the town’s kingpin, the man whose family built the pueblo, may be the biggest villain of all.

Baldacci crafts an evocative piece that pays homage to post-war America. For the most part, he gets the description, objects, and feel. At times, he focuses on attires and could be illustrative. He could be superficial in Callahan’s dialogues. How Archer manages to gain new friends so swiftly is likewise surprising. In this budding series, the author has shown a penchant of nonchalantly killing off key characters in quick succession. This is reminiscent of The Departed, Oscar Best Picture in 2006. However, the captivating story fuels the book. Most of the action takes place around Bay Town, specifically Midnight Moods and the characters’ home and workplaces. Furthermore, the corruption, inequality, and greed of the townsfolk bear similarity to its predecessor, One Good Deed. As usual, he employs short chapters and full players. I recommend this novel to anyone searching for a high-octane, undemanding period thriller.

Rating: 4.2/5

  • The Songlines (Chatwin). In this text, the author wanders through central Australia in search of the titular creation. Russian-Aussie Arkady accompanies him for the first third of the book. They drive through the country, meeting a motley of elders, kids, and artists. He learns more about songlines and Aboriginal culture. In particular, the traveller is drawn to the Dreaming. The latter is difficult to describe; one needs a paradigm shift. The dreaming is at the heart of their culture, the way ‘things came to be’, how life started. The dreaming is both lore and ethics, land and fauna. Regardless, painters are forbidden to draw their own Dreaming. I surmised that the Indigenous peoples find home in their traditions and poetry, as opposed to material wealth. They mark their territory through verses. They are also incredible storytellers, complete with re-enactments.

After a fairly engrossing 160 pages, Chatwin then refers to his moleskin notebooks. The next fifty pages are full of trivia regarding man’s search for relevance. The rest of the chapters also incorporate these pieces. The writer asserts that man are primal beings and that he derives satisfaction through the journey. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of these vignettes. I admit that I had to skip some of them. The book is not very accessible, mainly due to the trivia. Indeed, as one blogger propounded, they are closer to poetry. However, I gleaned from these bits that Chatwin has travelled far and wide. He’s been to places as disparate as India, Saharan Africa, Pico, New York, and the Serengeti. He’s climbed mountains, ate with nomads, witnessed tribal initiations, and spoke with experts.

The Songlines is much more than a book about Australia. The title is about a worldview, about reason and inculturation, stories and artwork. Having lived these experiences himself, the plot delves into the hopes, dreams, and struggles of a nation. As ancient as the land per se, the first peoples are forced to adapt. We live in strange times. I would add here that Chatwin has a propensity for embellishing; he dresses up his prose for maximum effect. This was true with In Patagonia and more so in this one.

Chatwin gives gripping, first-hand accounts of stories that will live on. Moreover, I would have to reiterate that the author has a wide vocabulary. The text is peppered with foreign words. There is even the odd French phrase. I prefer In Patagonia over this one due to the shorter sections. I had to skip less pages with that one, too. Realise though that this effort remains one of the late writer’s most famous works. In all honesty, I believe though that the book is overrated. The title tries to pack too much.

Rating: 3.85/5

Next read:

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White Tiger (2021) reviewed

Oscars weekend is here, and today I’ll review one of the nominees. The White Tiger is up for Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie is derived from the Aravind Adiga novel. While the book was released in 2008, the film version only premiered on Netflix this past January. At the time, it was one of the top films on the streaming service. A gritty portrait of class struggles, poverty, and globalisation, the production uses an all-Indian cast. Moreover, Tiger was shot on location in Delhi. Newcomer Adarsh Gourav spearheads the ensemble, which also includes some Bollywood stars.

Balram

Tiger tells the story of Balram Halwai, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in Laxmangarh. In spite of his family’s destitution, Balram is a voracious reader. In school, he is leaps and bounds better than his classmates, prompting a visiting scout to offer him a scholarship in Delhi. The same guy labels him ‘a white tiger.’ However, when his pops is unable to pay back the village elder, Balram’s grandma forces him to work in the local tea stall. As a result, he never steps foot in the classroom again.

Balram dreams of working for Ashok, son of the village landlord. The latter has returned from the US together with Pinky, his Americanised wifey. The spouse was a native New Yorker from Jackson Heights. Balram’s grandmother agrees to cover his driving lessons, with a share in his salary. The protagonist is hired as the family’s second driver but is also mistreated. The threat of a reprisal against his brethren is enough to keep him honest. Ashok and Pinky wish to move to Delhi, where they will buy government officials to give them tax breaks. Balram, who wants only to work for the couple, exposes the main driver’s creed. After the latter is sent packing, Balram joins the pair to Delhi. The westernised twosome clash with Ashok’s family.

Cultural capital

As opposed to other family members, the couple treat Balram well but still see him as a lackey. They take it as their duty to enlighten Balram. Throughout the runtime, Balram is often juxtaposed with his wealthier patrons. While the lead has street smarts, his patrons have cultural capital. It’s no secret that the consequence of an education is foregrounded. One’s learning becomes crucial in navigating (and surviving) India. In the ensuing scenes, Ashok is made accountable for the failings of his bosses. The family treats him like an outsider, belittling him even when he’s there. He loses faith in his bosses. Pinky eventually leaves her hubby for the States, which leaves Balram to steady his boss. His grandmother follows through on her promise and Balram squirms to avoid the arranged marriage. Furthermore, grandma sends him one of his younger nephews to learn the ropes from him.

Disillusioned

Balram starts going rogue, using Ashok’s car as a taxi and siphoning gas. He learns of a particularly big shipment that his patron will deliver. He then plots to murder Ashok, steal the money, and use it for good. This is the only way to rise above and roar like a tiger. He does all three and relocates together with his mentee to Bangalore, then the IT hub of the subcontinent. He bribes the police and starts his own lucrative taxi business. He treats his employees with care and does not point fingers in their failings. He reveals that he is now Ashok Sharma.

The making of Tiger

I haven’t read the novel, but I gathered that the movie is faithful to the book. American director Ramin Bahrani also wrote the screenplay. The helmer considered updating the plot to more recent times but gave up the idea since Tiger is a period film. While the script was initially 200 pages long, he managed to winnow it down. Instead of Balram posting on social media, he wrote emails instead. Bahrani considered other more familiar faces for the lead role but thought that the star should be both Indian and obscure. This would tie in nicely with the character’s underdog tag. Bahrani scoured far and wide in India, spending months and trekking through Adiga’s universe. He encountered hordes of faces, before sighting Gourav. The latter repaid the director’s confidence by preparing diligently for the role. Apparently, Gourav blew the filmmaker away during the audition.

The critics’ village

Tiger was released on 22 January of this year on Netflix. According to the latter, approximately 27 million households streamed the movie in its first month. The production was in the top 10 of 64 various countries. The film was met with universal acclaim, citing that it was ‘well-acted, beautifully made…a grimly compelling drama.’ In particular, pundits praised the efforts of the lead and Priyanka Chopra (Pinky). The latter was cited as ‘impressive’ and ‘marvellous.’ The picture has been compared to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The general view though from commentators is that this takes Slumdog up a notch, with its black comedy and savage reparation.

Riveting watch

The movie clocks in at 125 minutes, which is enough to keep you hooked. You couldn’t blame people for pitting it against Slumdog. Afterall, it’s Oscar season and the latter, with eight statuettes, set the bar for Indian-themed flicks. However, I like to contrast it to The Namesake, partly since I’ve read the author, Lahiri, recently. The two are not alike. While Namesake is a wistful drama, Tiger is a brutal correction of caste troubles. The former treads the tricky paths of the West/East divide. While there is some overlap, the latter remains an allegory on progress and seizing the day. The former has veteran actors; a newbie headlines the latter. However, both movies have rated well, and leave you learning more about Indian culture. How Tiger fares on Monday afternoon (Sydney time) would be interesting.

Rating: 4.5/5

Bangalore
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Jaunting through Top Ryde City (NSW)

Recently, we visited Top Ryde City. I’ve been there before. In 2018, I watched four films at the centre, including Ant-Man 2. Top Ryde is much similar to Westfield Eastgardens; there are neither train nor metro stops nearby. West Ryde and Meadowbank stations are the closest, but you’ll still have to take the bus. While being more inaccessible, I have to admit that the complex isn’t particularly remarkable. While Eastgardens has a Myer and the three major discount department stores, Top Ryde houses TK Maxx, Kmart, and Big W instead. The current Top Ryde iteration is a fairly large indoor/outdoor mall, with 78,125 square metres of floor space. This is spread over six levels. This makes it almost on par with Eastgardens (82,687 m2) and over twice the size of nearby Rhodes Waterside (34,646 m2). The mall features twin travelators across the main section. This is peculiar, as other centres around Sydney use the latter as a means to the carpark, basement, or upper level. Aside from Broadway shopping centre in downtown Sydney, you rarely see the travelators dominating the floor area.

Beginnings

The original centre initially opened in 1957. The structure represented the first major open-air mall in the state. The Benjamin’s opened their dream complex after taking in twenty malls in the novel American style. Franklins, the AJ Benjamin Department Store and 400 other smaller retailers, anchored Top Ryde. In 1962, Lendlease took over and saw the arrival of Woolworths and Grace Bros. A ten-pin bowling alley entered in the seventies. In 1986, redevelopments led to the edifice having a new designation: Top Ryde Shopping Square. Grace Bros beget Venture beget Target. A mall reshuffle then transpired, with the food court being teleported and banking relegated to the south end.

Adversity

The growth of several malls within Top Ryde’s periphery spelled doom. Macquarie Centre (MC) opened in 1981, while Westfields in Parramatta and Hornsby kept growing. The institution of Rhodes Waterside in 2004 likewise had a significant impact on foot traffic at the old edifice. On its last legs, Top Ryde was essentially a dead mall with Woolies, Franklins, the bowling alley and ninety specialty shops – mostly banking and service stores. The structure had two floors, with Woolies and the food court on level one. Franklins was on the street level, with busing access. The bowling place and carpark were on the third level.  

Top Ryde City

The edifice was demolished in July 2007 and construction then commenced. The new centre was so named after a consensus by the local Ryde Council. Stage 1 opened in November 2009, with the introduction of Woolies, Big W, Dan Murphy’s, and JB Hi-Fi.  Stage 2 was completed and ready by March 2010. This featured Aldi, Rebel Sport, and sixty other shops. This was also our first glimpse of the fashion area (La Strada). Finally, Stage 3 saw the unveiling of Myer and more fashion outlets at La Strada. This occurred on 4 August 2010. The former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was on hand for the official opening on 20 August 2010. Event Cinemas and other council projects welcomed patrons in February 2011. The original Top Ryde went into receivership. The Hong Kong arm of American-based Blackstone Group purchased the complex in November of 2012.

Twenty-thirteen

My first visit was way back in 2013. I met a friend at the mall, and we saw Captain Phillips. From my first visit, I gathered that this wasn’t a very accessible centre. At that time, Myer was still operating but I inferred that business was bad. I remember my friend ordering this croissant and hot tea for the afternoon snack. We also had a look at Strandbags. We probably had lunch at the food court, but I couldn’t remember what I had. I recall him talking about adding more storage for his PlayStation. I asked a couple of cute lasses where the bus stop was going back. At the time, I couldn’t quite place their accents.

At the movies

The movies were the primary reason for all the other times that I dropped by Top Ryde. I have to admit that their cinemas are nice. This is due to two reasons. One, the cinemas had only been around for less than a decade when I visited. Two, hardly anyone rocks up for movies here. When I asked my ex-neighbour, he asserted that only Event Beverly Hills is doing worse. The centre does have a bevy of dining options, but the aforementioned other centres are much more budget friendly. With their stylish set-up, Top Ryde’s dining precinct gives off a posh vibe. We had a look at some of these spots, which were mostly overpriced. We settled for Mexican grub. While I was making my order, the checkout chick was clearly getting stressed. She was eyeing the growing line behind me.

The stroll

After lunch, we headed to TK Maxx. There was this jacket that was priced at $69.99, with only one size left. I guess the Calvin Klein chest logo was worth the damage. The bag section had some good artsy, monochromatic designs. After looking at their menswear, I had to admit that there wasn’t much. Strandbags was next; I looked through their leather wallets. We went to The Reject Shop and bought some foodstuff. We then visited Best and Less; they had cheap denim. However, the grey jeans were too faded for my liking. There was a water bottle that we considered, but I deduced correctly that the recipient wouldn’t like the design.

Final word

We went to Big W and bought this good-value sheet set. We ducked into Kmart, mainly to see how their own sheets stack up. We did a light shop at Coles, mostly bakery items. We capped off our day at the food court, where I bought some KFC and Asian takeaway to go. We caught a direct bus ride from the mall to the city. Funny enough, the trip took longer than a similar one from MC. There sure were more stops for this one. The departure of Myer left a hole in this centre, one that hasn’t been filled. In addition, the complex is currently on the market. When we took in the centre, there wasn’t much activity – even though it was the school holidays. As it currently stands, there isn’t much reason to swoon over this structure, especially since you’d have to change at least once to get there.

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Fargo (2014) reviewed

Subsequent to my bingeing of Atypical, I have since been devouring Fargo. The series takes its name from the Coen brothers movie circa 1996 and is set in Midwestern America, including Minnesota, Kansas, North and South Dakota. Noah Hawley is the primary director and writer of the programme, which is a fusion of black comedy and thriller. The show has produced four seasons thus far, and I’ve almost finished the first three. Fargo is an anthology series, with different plots and characters for each instalment. There was a significant number of familiar faces in the programme. In short, I’ve seen these role players in other offerings. All four series were critically acclaimed, and the second season got a perfect rating. The characters were uniform in their midwestern accents. All seasons are supposed to be based on real events but have been altered out of respect for survivors.

Season 1 (2014)

The true crime anthology begins in small town Minnesota. The season takes place during winter in early 2006, with the town covered in snow. A drifter, Malvo, enters the precinct and causes mayhem. Billy Bob Thornton does a malevolent turn. Meanwhile, Lester is one of the townsfolk he ‘helps.’ The latter works as an insurance salesman. A former classmate, who now owns a trucking business, bullies him. He neither agrees nor disagrees to let Malvo ‘spank’ his tormentor, Sam Hess. Because of his indecision, he sets off a chain of events that plunges Bemidji into chaos. Lester starts to lie in order to cover his tracks. This progresses to medium, and finally, big untruths. He becomes no different than Malvo.

For almost the entire season’s duration, Lester is not held accountable for his behaviour. Molly Solverson (of the local police department) is on his trail but her boss (Bob Odenkirk) repeatedly side-tracks her investigation. Though a period piece, this is a fine example of bureaucracy. A similar thing would happen with two FBI agents later on in the show. While the latter was a staple in Breaking Bad, we also have Keith Carradine (who plays Molly’s father) and Colin Hanks (Dexter). The latter portrays a cop with Duluth PD who crosses paths with Malvo. Hanks becomes involved with Solverson. Jordan Peele (director of Get Out) was also part of the cast. Peele played one of two FBI agents who were banished to archives after not being useful in a live murder scene. Peele would redeem himself as he connects the dots with Molly.

As a side note, the first season included a man finding a briefcase full of dollars. When Malvo purses him upon learning of his hidden wealth, his life becomes hell. A ransom is demanded, he decides to return his find back to the ground. This is a timely allegory with existential overtones. Is it “finders’ keepers?” Or, when the going gets tough, should it be “finders returners?” There was also a riddle about the hare, fox, and cabbage. How would you ferry them across the river when you could only bring one at a time? The series won three Emmy’s and earned Thornton a Golden Globe award.

Rating: 4.8/5

Season 2 (2015)

The second season is another true crime treat, this time based mostly in both Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. Jesse Plemons was nicknamed Meth Damon while on Breaking Bad. He resurfaces this time as Ed Blumquist, a well-fed butcher who yearns to have his own business. His wife, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), is a beautician. Early in the series, Rye Gerhardt – who was part of a crime family – murders three humans. A judge was among his kill list. While getting some air outside the scene of the crime, things end badly for the killer – thanks to Peggy . The couple then become unlikely matadors. Peggy instructs her hubby to rid themselves of the evidence. Hence, Ed dismembers the corpse, before turning him into minced man. He would then burn the clothes he used to chop up the dead body.

This instalment acts as a prequel to its predecessor, taking place in 1979. Retro cars, outfits, and telephones abound. Carradine is a younger state trooper, instead of a café owner. This time he is played by Patrick Wilson. His daughter, Molly, is still a child. His wife has terminal cancer and has mere months left. Wilson is reminiscent of his daughter later on: tough, resourceful, righteous, and determined. He anticipates a turf war between the Gerhardts and their Kansas City nemesis. This would arise from Rye’s death and the subsequent finger pointing. Peggy and Ed’s dishonesty would worsen matters. Like Lester twenty years later, their fabrications would get bigger over time. For instance, they sold their car for a song and faked an auto accident to wiggle out of trouble. They would even get a hostage to gain the upper hand. Finally, they went on the run. In other words, their deceit would eventually swallow them up and make them afoul of the law. Solverson has trouble getting his voice heard among his colleagues on the force.

Meanwhile, Ted Danson appears as Wilson’s father-in-law. I saw him previously as the architect in The Good Place. Nick Offerman is another recognisable face, being cast in Parks and Rec. Here, he moonlights as Karl Weathers, the town’s lone lawyer. However, my favourite character in this edition is Hanzee, the native American who’s so badass. He’s the coolest outlier on the show without even trying. Emily Haine was also notable in her bit as Noreen, a book-toting absurdist teen who liked to quote Camus. While juggling reads and her role in the butchery, she babysat Molly. Once again, the series competed for a slew of awards and was considered one of 2015’s finest. Like season one, the show had ten episodes and was likewise shot in Calgary, Alberta.

Rating: 5/5

Season 3 (2017)

Though still in the same fictional universe, the third season departs from the norm. This instalment is the first in the series not to be set in Fargo, North Dakota. Instead, the edition takes place in three Minnesotan towns: Saint Cloud, Eden Valley, and Eden Prairie. The events transpire between 2010 and 2011. Ewan McGregor stars in the double role as brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy. The former is the well-to-do ‘parking lot king of Minnesota’, while his hermano struggles as a parole officer. Emmit has a fine house, his brother chugs along in an antique Corvette. Ray begins a relationship with one of his charges, which was a no-no.  

Ray is after the vintage stamp that sits in Emmit’s office, as he believes this is rightfully his. He convinces one of his parolees to steal the stamp from him. However, things go sideways as the intoxicated recidivist loses the slip of paper bearing Emmit’s address. Instead of heading to Eden Prairie, he ends up murdering an old man in Eden Valley. The latter happens to have Stussy’s surname and is the father-in-law of Gloria Burgle, the female lead. Ray and his partner remind me of Ed and Peggy from season two. In a cruel twist of fate, they get involved in a double murder.  

Meanwhile, a mysterious bugger named V.M. Varga appears into Emmit’s passenger seat. Varga bailed out Emmit’s company with a million-dollar loan, no questions asked. Now, V.M. is taking control not only of Emmit’s business, but his home life. Varga likes to tell stories; he’s a veritable quote machine. People might remember the actor as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter. However, he takes a much darker turn in this outing. He’s shady, to say the least. He is paranoid of any type of bad PR and meddles in whatever briefing he deems trouble. He is likewise bulimic. In the show, Varga almost exclusively rocks up in a brown $200 suit and a beige trench coat.

Through this all, Gloria tries to piece together the murders and deceit. She often faces sexism and discrimination at work. Like Molly in the first season, her boss refuses to trust her. She finds an ally in Winnie Lopez, who is with the St Cloud PD. She even travels to Los Angeles to find some answers. Gloria has to contend with the bureaucracy to ensure that the truth prevails. I recognised the parolee, Scoot McNairy, who was in Narcos: Mexico. There was also a Wes Wrench sighting. The latter is the deaf-mute hitman from season uno; he plays a relatively brief but pivotal role in this one. Andy Yu was brilliant as the cold-blooded matador. Carrie Coon was head-turning as Gloria. Ewan McGregor’s Jeckyll and Hyde act was commendable. If you assumed that the third instalment was set in Calgary (again) then you guessed right.

Rating: 4.7/5

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Trans-seasonal reads

Since my last list, I’ve focused on perusing fiction. Jodi Picoult’s House Rules was the first novel I crested. This time, the bestselling author explored an Aspie teen who was charged with the murder of his tutor. Picoult gave an accurate and detailed portrait of a boy on the spectrum. The challenge of being misunderstood is laid bare before the world. I followed this up with Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. Her first collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, won her the Pulitzer. Meanwhile, the 2008 anthology debuted at number one on the Times bestsellers list. The collection continues the author’s expat Indian theme. The late Bruce Chatwin’s first book, In Patagonia, is this list’s de rigueur nonfiction read. Though released in the seventies, the title established Chatwin as one of the foremost literary minds of his generation.

  • House Rules (Picoult). Once again, the writer deals with a sensitive topic, this time anatomising the life of a teenager on the spectrum. Jacob Hunt is eighteen, six feet tall, 185 pounds, and goes to school. However, he isn’t your typical adolescent. He colour-codes his garments and the meals he eats each day. He sticks to a routine and slight changes to this would make him go berserk. For the most part, he does not show emotion and takes things very literally. Thus, he gets lost when someone uses idioms or metaphors.

He always rides at the backseat of cars, even when he was off to the prom. He is obsessed about the show Crimebusters. When it plays at four-thirty pm, he drops everything to re-watch the episodes for the nth time. As typical with Aspies, he focuses his energies on but one compulsion: forensic science. He becomes a fixture at crime scenes. When he’s in a tight spot, he recites lines from popular movies. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” he once quipped. Another time, while Emma (his mom) debated their next moves, he said, “One martini please. Shaken not stirred.”

Picoult shifts the perspective (and the font) between various characters. She lets the reader into the points of view of Jacob, Emma, and Theo (his brother). The former has grown inexorably close to his tutor, Jess. He comes to resent Mark, the latter’s boyfriend, and finds the guts to ask her out on a date in front of Mark. This leads to a lover’s quarrel, before Jess tells him to ‘get lost.’ A few days later, Jess is missing, and the evidence leads Rich, the town sheriff, to arrest and charge Jacob. We occasionally focalise through Rich’s punto de vista.

Emma then hires Oliver, the first lawyer in sight. We become witnesses as Jacob’s team has the unenviable task of exonerating him before judge and jury. Almost every one of the eleven chapters begin with a real-life murder case. Henry, Jacob’s father, left them early on, content with sending them a check each month. The ending made me smile, as is the case with this author. By the way, the title is taken from one of Emma’s house rules for both her sons, which will be highlighted at the close. House Rules clocks in at over six hundred pages. However, this is a very well-researched effort that’s funny, sentimental, and quirky: a joy to read.

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Unaccustomed Earth (Lahiri). As mentioned, this collection of stories debuted at number one on the New York Times bestsellers list. As with Lahiri’s other English material, the book explores the Indian American experience. Eight stories comprise the title, including four published in The New Yorker. The title story, ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is set in Seattle and delves into the three generations of the same family. We follow the father who vacations with Ruma and his grandson, Akash. While he tends their garden, he is harbouring a dark family secret. He also tries to convince his daughter to carry on her legal career instead of being a stay-at-home mum. The grandson, who is raised in the US, becomes more Bengali than his own mum.

Meanwhile, ‘Hell-Heaven’ is about Pranab, a graduate student of MIT, who becomes a de facto part of another Bengali American family. He fights homesickness while enjoying Aparna’s cooking. He has become a fixture in their abode that they call him Uncle Pranab. He starts dating this American woman, Deborah, and spends time with her instead. He grows apart from Aparna and her husband. The pair eventually marry and start a family. The former, who harbors hurt feelings, pines for their divorce. The couple eventually splits after twenty-three years of matrimony. The story explores the distinctive mother-daughter bond between Aparna and her daughter, Usha.

In ‘A choice of Accommodations’, Amit and Megan are an interethnic couple. They travel together to the former’s alma mater. Amit’s close school friend will be wed. While Amit waxes nostalgia, Megan is increasingly insecure. The weekend was supposed to be a romantic getaway but turns shady as the reception lasts deep into the evening. In ‘Only Goodness’, a sister’s desire to give her brother the childhood she never had goes back to bite her. Her hermano had studied at Cornell before his life unraveled. ‘Nobody’s Business’ is a cautionary tale about how some relationships are not what they seem. On the surface, Sang and Farouk’s relationship is flawless. However, there appears more to the story than even Sang would know. There is a Vancouver connection in this one.

Lahiri then gives us three interconnected stories in Part two: Hema and Kaushik. The trio of narratives offers an incandescent dirge of love, death, life and fate. We spectate at a girl and a boy, who shared one winter at a house in Massachusetts. They finally become lovers and we are privy to what transpires in the middle: growing up, new faces and ambitions. In all, this is a strong effort: familiar themes and settings, but superb writing. You might want to check out Lahiri’s other work, including The Namesake, which was adapted into a poignant film.

Rating: 4.7/5

  • In Patagonia (Chatwin). Since seeing his grandma’s ‘brontosaurus’ relic as a child in England, Chatwin had always longed to escape to South America. In his thirties, he quits his job as a journalist to wander through Patagonia. He longs to learn more about the mylodon, the strange beast that fascinated him as a child. He charts his journey from the fringes of the locale. He then meets settlers, among them British, Germans, and Spanish. They are all very hospitable and tell him stories along the way. While most tales get equal billing, there is more pages allotted on the legend of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Even as he hitches and takes the train, he spends a considerable time walking through the wilderness.   

During Chatwin’s time, wool production was a major enterprise in the region and horses were requisite. Hence, gauchos and peons are ubiquitous terms in the narrative. Sheep farming here dates back to 1877. He also discusses historical figures such as Ferdinand Magellan and Charles Darwin, who both explored the pampas. He debates whether Patagonia had inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He searches for Trapalanda, the lost City of the Caesars. He also considers urban legends: the brujeria or male witches. There are also dialectics on socialism and revolution. Remember this was written before the end of the Cold War. Thus, there is no shortage of chronicles. In spite of his drifting, the author never loses sight of his purpose: to decipher the lost mylodon, the extinct sloth-like behemoth that precipitated his wanderlust.

In Patagonia is a standard read at around 260 pages. My copy included an introduction by Nicholas Shakespeare, his biographer. The book is notable for the briefness of its ninety-seven chapters. The structure of Hemingway’s In Our Time was said to inspire Chatwin’s brevity. This particular title is a visionary travel read, although I admit that it might not be for everyone. There are some parts that you could breeze through, and others that are better off with less detail. Some items are fictionalised for added effect.

Moreover, the work is an ethnographic phantasm: museums, native Americans, fauna, and oral histories to name a few. The title is littered with Spanish phrases, but the Briton does an admirable job in putting them together. Instead of confusing the reader, they add colour. Regardless of the foreign words, the author had a wide vocabulary per se. He uses eloquence to great effect in his vivid descriptions. Whether the writer sought out first or second-hand sources, his research skills were outstanding. Chatwin wrote with so much poise, even though this was his first book. In Patagonia remains the region’s unquestioned guide forty years since its publication.  

Rating: 4.05/5

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Mac OS Big Sur reviewed

Last weekend, I finally made the move to the latest Mac Operating System (OS). Until then, I’ve been using Mac OS Catalina. My Mac came with OS Mojave pre-installed but even when Catalina was out, I took my time. Some people might wonder why I’ve resisted the urge to upgrade. I actually have a very good reason for this: I do not wish to be a guinea pig. Let others take on the growing pains. I recall attending this class a while ago. I was in front of a monitor in the tech lab. I asked our instructor if it was safe to download MAMP from this website.   

‘Yeah, they’re pretty reputable.’

‘I got my stuff from them,’ he continued. ‘They don’t have bugs or anything.’

We shared a laugh.

Leading the way

Mac OS 11 aka Big Sur was first released on 12 November of last year. It was named after the Big Sur region in California’s central coast. The last cluster of Mac OS released have been named after places in Cali: Mavericks, Catalina, High Sierra, and Yosemite to name a few. Big Sur is technically seen as version 10.16 but is radically different enough for people to call it version 11.0. Big Sur is a huge leap forward from Catalina. The latter was basically the same as its predecessor, Mojave. However, Big Sur does not support some Macs circa 2012 and 2013. In terms of the MacBook Air, only laptops from mid-2013 can upgrade.

Pleasing look

Some of the biggest changes could be seen in the new and improved app designs. All standard apps have been reworked, including the Dock. In terms of aesthetics, the look is now very similar to iOS. One must note that there is more shading for the Mac apps, providing a 3D look unlike its iOS counterparts. There are now even new picturesque wallpapers. Moreover, a new Control Center has been added, with quick navigations for key buttons. The brightness level could be adjusted here, likewise Wi-Fi and AirDrop. The same applies to the Notification Center. Once again, these evoke elements of iOS. If your Mac has the M1 chip (released in November 2020) you can take advantage of even more new features.

Backup-ville

Most importantly, the old Time Machine has been given a facelift. Up until Mac OS Catalina, the backup mechanism used HFS+. This has been the traditional file storage system that remained unchanged even as other Mac applications utilised the newer APFS. This has resulted in snappier, more dependable backups than its forebear. Apparently, APFS could be up to four times speedier than its predecessor. New volumes are automatically formatted to APFS by default. I also noticed that the changes have also been applied to the Time Machine volume. The storage device has a new look reminiscent of iOS.

Other changes

Spotlight is also quicker and sports a redefined interface. It’s now the default search parameter in Safari, Keynote, and Pages. Meanwhile, the Now Playing feature has been carried over from the notification centre to the menu bar. As part of the upgrade, Safari 14 has been instituted. The newest edition brings a bevy of novel features. Among these are new icons for Preview, System Information, and Calculator. From the App Store to Messages and Notes to Photos, Big Sur has reimagined the Mac’s system.

The backup claims to be twelve gigabytes. However, you actually need thirty-five GB of space in order to incorporate the new system. The update would take some time; you might want to grab lunch outside, walk the dog, or read a book. As I expected, the Big Sur rollout had some hang-ups. Those who didn’t listen and had insufficient space were the most impacted. This was especially true of 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pros. Apparently, the rollout also affected those computers who weren’t even running Big Sur. There were also some early security concerns, that were subsequently addressed by the Apple vineyard itself.

Nueva OS

Apart from these changes, I like the new background options for my screen. They add some brightness to the ambience. I also noticed that the battery icon has a different feel when I’m charging my device. The start-up screen has also been revamped. Before upgrading, always remember to do a backup (or two). Also note that your first backup post-update will be a little longer than usual. In the end, I couldn’t help but compare my new desktop to the iOS. The changes breathe new life to the tried and tested world of Mac OS.

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Atypical (2017) reviewed

I’ve been streaming this series lately. I had just finished both seasons of Imposters when I thought of giving Atypical a chance. The Netflix Original ties in nicely with my latest finished read. Both House Rules (Picoult) and the former centre around a teenager on the spectrum. The pair of works are commendable in their portrayals of socially-challenged boys. Like Jodi Picoult, the series creators allotted much time to research. Keir Gilchrist delivers a star-turning performance as the protagonist, Sam. The show was renewed for a fourth season and final season, which will air this year. Thus, the programme stacks up really well when compared with other such series on the platform.

Season 1 (2017)

At the start, Sam Gardner has only one friend, the green-minded Zahir. He also owns a tortoise who he named Edison after the great American inventor. Sam is dependent on his mother, Elsa. She does the housework, oversees his schedule, and drives him to school. He sees Julia, his therapist, pretty regularly and announces his intent of finding a girlfriend. His support network encourages him to go for it, admitting that he could overcome his autism and find love. He then realises that he has become fond of Julia and that he needs to find a practice girlfriend. His forays into romance are awkward, funny yet spirited. Along the way, he uses Zahir’s colourful advice.

Finding a match is difficult for someone like Sam. His whole day is organised and any change to his routine is devastating. He does not pick up on signals and non-verbal cues. He has a hard time registering emotion and talks in a monotone. Whenever he’s nervous, he would scratch his head or twiddle with his rubber band. Like other autistics, he devotes his time to one hobby in particular: penguins. Indeed, most of the eps begin with his lengthy monologues on the sea creatures. There are also heavy servings of penguin documentaries. His lack of inhibitions in talking is sometimes humorous.

Slowly but surely, he begins to untangle himself from Elsa and gets a girlfriend (Paige Hardaway). However, his inexperience and insensitivity cause the relationship to soon crumble. At school, his younger sister – Casey – initially watches over him. She is an elite runner who always starts her mornings with a run. Casey gets together with Evan, the brother of a girl that she defended. She is eventually accepted into the elite Clayton Prep. Meanwhile, Elsa feels more and more unneeded and falls into the arms of the bartender. Julia eventually becomes pregnant with her boyfriend. Regardless, the first series was eight eps long, while the next two were both ten eps each.

Season 2 (2018)

Casey catches her mum kissing, which she soon reports to their father, Doug (Michael Rapaport). The latter then kicks Elsa out of the home. He then finds doing all the housework an improbable task. Elsa is allowed back in, with some guidelines. Doug remains sour. After declaring his love for Julia, Sam is rejected. In the aftermath, Sam cannot see her any more due to a conflict of interest. He struggles to find Julia’s replacement. At the guidance counsellor’s insistence, Sam is encouraged to apply for college. He also joins a peer group comprised of students on the spectrum, prepping them for future pursuits and autonomy.

Meanwhile, Casey gets a rude awakening at Clayton. Her teammates despise her, the canteen payment system works differently, and she rocks up to class in uniform on a wash day. Nate becomes her first friend, showing her how to open her locker and buying her a pizza. She eventually becomes buddies with Izzie, the team’s resident star who’s initially mean towards her. They forge a close bond, with Casey developing feelings for Izzie and questioning her connection with Evan. With Casey’s absence from his school life, Sam turns his attention to drawing. However, he remains confused about his college preferences. Ms. Whitaker discovers his sketches and he applies to Denton University.  

During graduation, Paige is unable to give her valedictory address. She had lost her voice defending her man. Sam, who finished third in their year, then reads her speech verbatim, including “pause for applause.” People are surprised at how well he delivered the address, earning him a rousing ovation. Upon introspecting, he then realises that he is in love with Paige. The season sees the creators giving more run to people on the spectrum, thus addressing the first edition’s main weakness.

Season 3 (2019)

Sam hears that four out of every five students on the spectrum fail college. Though he’s determined to flip the script, the statistic seeps into his consciousness. He has a rough start to college and rebuffs his mum’s direction to register with disability services. After being unable to take notes in one of his classes, Sam gleans that he does need help. At first, he almost fails his Socratic seminar, not being up to the task of contributing to the mandatory discussion. However, he is able to turn things around. In his sketching class, they are handed an assignment: get the essence of your subject. He squirms for weeks, until making a breakthrough.

Zahir begins dating this nutcase Gretchen, who gets in the way of their friendship. She is also clearly anti-college and has sticky fingers. Sam’s relationship with Paige struggles to beat their distance. While presenting as a content coed, Sam fails to grasp that his girlfriend is lying. Indeed, she is having a tougher time adjusting than him and survives on microwaved burritos every day. Once, they agree to a virtual dinner together, which quickly turns into a disaster. Sam learns (much later) that Paige developed an addiction for online shopping as a coping mechanism in college. She bought a kayak and two oars among others, splurging thousands. Paige then drops out of Bowdoin and works part-time as a mascot.

Casey is torn between Evan and Izzie, who stays with them for a short while. The two lasses dreamed of going to UCLA (University of California, LA) and Casey wants Evan to go with them. However, he admits that he is dyslexic. The chasm between Doug and Elsa remains. The former becomes closer to Megan, whose daughter is part of Sam’s peer group. Altogether, this is an engrossing production from a talented cast. One more penguin, please.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Westfield Sydney: the shopping axis of the Emerald City

This week, I’m going to write about Westfield’s flagship store in the heart of Sydney. The current iteration is quite new, having only been constructed in 2010. The centre is part of Pitt St Mall, the pedestrian shopping mall known for having some of the highest leases in the world. I must admit that I was planning to outline Pitt St Mall, but one post isn’t enough for the profile. Westfield (WF) Sydney has five anchor tenants, including Myer, JB HiFi, Microsoft Store, and Zara. The latter two are flagship stores. The edifice sits underneath Sydney Tower and borders both Glasshouse and MidCity Centre (beside Myer).

Westfield Sydney facade

Westfield: a history

WF Sydney is on land that previously belonged to four other centres: Westfield Centrepoint, Skygarden, Imperial Arcade, and Sydney Central Plaza. The oldest of the four was Imperial Arcade, which dated back to 1891. A prominent Sydney architect designed the arcade. Demolished in 1961, this was rebuilt by Stockland and opened in October 1965. This marked the company’s first Sydney CBD (central business district) redevelopment project. The building was comprised of four shopping levels and office space above. Sydney’s flagship Angus & Robertson bookstore was the mall’s crowning glory. Westfield Group purchased it for ninety million dollars in 2004.

Meanwhile, Centrepoint opened with 52 stores in 1972. Further refurbishments followed in the eighties, nineties, and the last coming in 2000. Once again, Westfield bought the structure in December of 2001, later renaming it as Westfield Centrepoint. At its peak, the building housed over 140 stores and had skybridge connections to David Jones and Myer. There was likewise a link to Imperial Arcade. On the other hand, Skygarden opened in 1988, featuring seven retail levels together with a food court housed in situ. Westfield purchased this in 2004.

Sydney Central Plaza is the most recent one of the four, opening in 1998. It features two retail levels below Myer’s flagship store. The Westfield Group secured the retail precinct in 2003. Myer had purchased the old Farmer and Co. department store in 1961. The redevelopment commenced on 4 July 2009 on a $930-million budget. Centrepoint, Imperial Arcade, and Skygarden were merged into WF Sydney. The Plaza was reimagined as an appendage of WF Sydney. In two openings between 2010-11, WF Sydney was unveiled to the world. The centre currently houses 288 stores across six levels of retail and restaurants. This makes it one of the newest (and glitziest) WFs around

At the heart of Sydney

This WF has 91,699 square metres of retail space, making it the largest mall in Sydney’s CBD. As mentioned, the centre has six levels. The Tommy Hilfiger store at the ground level is a recent addition. I bought a long sleeve polo there last year. They used to have a GAP store, where I bought a plain orange jumper at half price. I also purchased this charcoal Henley and a tote bag before they closed down. Recently, I collected two items from Cotton On: a slub Henley tee in peach colour and a long sleeve tee in oxblood red. I nabbed the latter at sixty percent off.

The strategic location is what separates this edifice from the rest of its cousins. There are no other WFs located in the Sydney CBD. Moreover, no mall in Sydney offers a six-level Myer. The centre is proximate to all modes of public transport. The buses are closest, with most services stopping at the adjoining streets: Castlereagh or Elizabeth. The tram is only a couple minutes’ walk from the QVB (Queen Victoria Building) stop. The train is a little farther along but both Martin Place and Town Hall stations are within walking distance.

Bargain frenzy

Over the years, I had a lot of cheap finds at the seven-storey Myer. The cargo short from Country Road was probably the best. From the original price of almost ninety bucks, it was down to thirty-seven. Since I had two $20 gift cards, I still had change while not parting with any cash. I’ve also detailed before how I got this brand-new G-Star pair for two bucks. Once, I bought a striped Henley tee at $20. Since I had a $20 gift card, I essentially paid nothing. I still use that top during summer. Have I mentioned that I got this MacBook Air from them? In late January of 2019, we purchased this at the CBD store with ten percent off.

Whatever your taste, WF Sydney has you covered. If you’re male and out for new kicks, there’s Hype DC and Platypus for the casual vibe. R.M. Williams or Timberland are the go-to’s for boots and be sure to drop by Aquila and Windsor Smith for dress shoes. Looking for new duds? ‘Sigh no more’ as there are options galore. Whether it’s Jag or Superdry, Sportscraft or Oxford, wander along these corridors and you’ll shop up a storm. Eyewear upgrade? No worries! Specsavers and Sunglass Hut have got you covered. Indeed, yesterday I collected my glasses from the former. In need of accessories? Easy. There’s a Herschel store, an Oroton spot, and a Nike retailer under one roof.  

Food court

‘Feeling peckish?’ I thought you’d never ask. Head below Myer for a kaleidoscope of cuisines. Gozleme? Check. Fast food? Check. Asian takeaway? Sandwiches? Drinks? To paraphrase the saying, to perceive is to believe. They also have a posher second food court on level five. While there is some overlap between the two dining areas, expect to pay more while munching on those dumplings. The takeaway shops are doing well but business for the smaller retailers is not so rosy. The high-end mall is home to both national and international brands, bourgeoisie to designer labels. What’s more, this WF also has a pharmacy, where they can meet your health needs.

Wanderlust in the big city

Whether you’re new to Sydney, a local, or a wanderer, checking out WF Sydney wouldn’t hurt. As outlined, the centre is one of the most accessible in the metro area. If you happen to be in the city anyway, this shopping haven wants some moments with you. The food and drink options will make you dizzy. There are brands you’ll love: new and established, fancy and old school. There’s almost no reason to discover a new land within your cityscape, much like how Christopher Columbus chanced upon the New World.

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Consider the oasis: Macquarie Centre

I went to the north shore to visit my dentist. He is Pinoy and he did a thorough job. While waiting for the fluoride to blend in, we took the bus to Macquarie Centre (MC). I’ve visited this mall a few times, although my last trip was in 2018. I watched Avengers with my friend in gold class. I also recall picking up this subtle black vest at Jeanswest. In recent years, the centre has become more accessible. While the old Macquarie train station has been around for a while, 2018 saw it being converted to a metro stop. Services are now more frequent. The complex is a short walk from the station, while most bus services stop in the mall’s façade. MC has nine anchor tenants, including Big W, Woolworths, Coles, Event Cinemas, Myer, David Jones, and Target. By the way, a book from a late literary mastermind inspired the title of this post.

the centre’s main entrance

Holding court

The story of MC could be traced all the way back to 1968, when Grace Bros (now Myer) purchased sixteen acres of land in North Ryde with the intent of building a twelve-million-dollar shopping complex. Arch-nemesis David Jones (DJ) countered with a proposal of building their own mall in Macquarie Park. DJ launched an ambitious bid, with eighty specialty retailers, an office tower, and a relocated distribution centre. To one-up their enemies, Grace Bros purchased further land. That same year, the state government approved Grace Bros while rejecting DJ’s offer for zoning reasons.  

Delays seemed to be the recurring theme. While Grace Bros barely opened an outlet in the seventies, the Macquarie store would be their master stroke. Work commenced on March of 1979. This coincided with AMP Capital agreeing to be the major shareholder, providing the lion’s share of the eighty-million-dollar edifice. The construction period saw numerous face-offs with the Industrial Commission over worker wages. This led to a downturn in manpower, further impacting the centre’s completion. The structure was originally set to be unveiled in Easter of 1981, but this was postponed until September. Finally, the late state Premier Neville Wran opened the centre on the seventeenth of November 1981.

The tenants

At its big reveal, the centre had ‘an Olympic sized ice rink’. The latter is the home ground of some Sydney ice hockey teams and could be utilised for other skating activities. The rink has seating for up to 2000 humans. Speaking of ice skating, I recall eating with my friend at the food court. He lived close by. We saw this elderly man treading gingerly on his skates, accompanied by his grandson. The old man fell on his bum. We had to stifle our chuckles. No seniors were harmed in the making of this vignette.

Among their major tenants were Grace Bros (since renamed Myer), Woolworths, Target, and Big W. The complex also included 130 other stores. MC became the third ‘incline mall’ in Sydney, after Burwood and Hurstville. One of the centre’s unique features is this spiral staircase in the middle that weaved all over the sundial water fountain. Discount supermarket Franklins joined the club in 1992 and was there until 2012. Likewise, Greater Union entered the dragon in September 1994, offering eight screens for Oscar nuts. I recall browsing in Borders many years past. As usual, they had a massive space. I came to know that this was their second store in Australia. Nowadays, there are sixteen cinemas in the edifice.

The recap

We had lunch at this Korean place. We ordered rice dishes: bibimbap and sizzling steak. Tummies replenished, we passed by the food court. One store was already discounting his takeaway. Further along, I realised that Jay-Jays has replaced Jeanswest. The Jag store where I bought my blue zip jacket is long gone. Ditto Gap, which was closing down when we visited on Boxing Day, 2017. We entered Myer but gathered that their promotion wasn’t up to par. Had we gone in the day before, they had forty percent off for some brands. After browsing for a little while, I headed to H&M. I concurred that they were like Myer and it was the off-season. I looked at the sale rack at General Pants; same old. This seemed to be the trend. Linen shirts at Industrie were ON SALE…for sixty bucks.

A whole new wing

We decided to give DJ a try. The store is fairly recent, part of the complex’s $440 million expansion in 2014. At the time, this was the first new DJ store in many years. A whole new wing was added, including Uniqlo, Zara, Coles, ALDI, and Sydney’s first H&M. Luckily, I noticed this check green shirt from a Country Road concession. The label said it was ‘100% organic linen’. While the price tag listed it as $39.95, the original cost was $129. They only had extra small and extra-large on the rack. I tried on the former and it was a good fit. I decided to buy it. After this, we went to Cotton On. I noted this olive hoodie which was half price. I tried the medium and it looked good, so I made the purchase. We also did a cameo at Shaver Shop. We dropped by Country Road, but they no longer had the linen shirt. We then browsed at Strandbags, where my companion liked this brown wallet. It was leather with a partial-weave design and was at a good price. After some consideration, they told me that they have too many wallets in their collection.  

Groceries and supper

We bought some bread at Baker’s Delight, before doing the weekly grocery run. After this, we had our supper at Hungry Jack’s. We then took the bus going home. Big W was the biggest store that we overlooked, although there were others. With the building’s annex, MC now holds the distinction of being Sydney’s largest suburban shopping mall. The complex totals 134,900 square meters or 1,452,052 square feet. To put it in perspective, Castle Hill is already a big structure at 117,700 square metres yet not as epic as MC. Westfield Bondi has 331 stores, but the latter offers 350. Having been established in 1981, the centre is even older than Westfield Eastgardens (1987). However, the complex has moved with the times and as detailed, has been democratised through recent transport developments. At the moment, Kmart is the only major player missing in the mall’s store directory.

How the centre stacks up

MC appears like a mirage. One could say that it’s a little out of the way, being a fair distance from the city proper. Aside from the hulking edifice, the area offers little entertainment options. North Ryde is more of a tech area, with offices of national companies including Cochlear. The suburb is also home to multi-nationals like Microsoft, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard. There is mostly a lone reason to troop to the locale, and Macquarie is one massive motive. In this sense, the structure is closer to Castle Hill, Macarthur Square, and Rouse Hill. In all these examples, the mall is the axis, the main tourist attraction. While the station is not as proximate as Castle Hill’s, it is still a bit more accessible than Warringah Mall. All in all, it was nice to revisit the complex after a while. We weren’t able to see all the best offerings but guess what. At over three hundred stores, you will be hard-pressed to run the gamut.

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