Hat-trick

I finished three more reads since my last list. I indicated then that American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was next. Aside from the controversial novel, I have also gone through two non-fiction books. The first was Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This, a handy writing book where the author gives vital tips to his students. The book was short – though hardcover – while likewise being efficient. The title may only be eleven chapters long but packed a lot. The Dokic biography completed the triple. Unbreakable tells the struggles of a tennis prodigy who contended with an abusive father and the gruelling demands of the game. I finished this in under a week, a testament to the work’s accessibility.

American Dirt. (Cummins) By now some of you have heard of this polarising text. Since being published earlier in the year, the book has been either loved or loathed. American tells a story that resonates in these trying times: the story of refugees fleeing their troubled homes in search of a better life. Lydia, a bookstore owner, and her eight-year-old son, Sebastian, escape the clutches of narcos back in Acapulco. As they bounce from hotel to hotel, the tiresome bureaucracy in their country forces them to take the La Bestia. They meet the best angels and the worst demons along the way. Far from their homes, the shadow of Javier (the kingpin) looms large over them. The son and his encyclopaedic knowledge of places are irrelevant as they become pawns in the status quo. Without question the entire trip is very perilous.

The escape to El Norte is a massive undertaking that spans numerous trains, evil rogues, the occasional Good Samaritan and shelters, and the constant brush with death. They meet two sisters, Soledad and Rebecca, who become like family to them. Their journey is full of pit stops and stalling, as they realise that distance will not deter the demons. They pass through various cities, including Juarez and Guadalajara, in a stop-and-start pattern through the Mexican countryside. They are then linked with a ‘coyote’, the final arduous trek through desert as they cross the border into America. This is a strong effort from Cummins, and the hype and malcontent around the book almost overshadows the book per se. Some critics found issue with the book’s depiction of refugee struggles and poverty. Others have noted the inaccuracies in both language and cultural specificities. Regardless, Cummins should be lauded because of her valiant attempt in spite of her shortcomings.

Rating: 4.32/5

Consider This. (Palahniuk) I’ve read one other book by this author (Choke). I’ve tried reading Invisible Monsters, but it didn’t click with me. Palahniuk is notable for his shock value, the gore and guts. Fight Club, made into a Fincher film, is postmodernism par excellence. I was glad to finally get this book last month. Chuck shares that writing tutorials are great ways to advance your fiction. He introduces the reader to big voice, the clock, and the dead parent. He stresses to avoid tennis-match dialogue and dreams. He gives us heaps of examples for inspiration, culled both from his own body of work and from pop culture. He even shares his personal experiences – with the ‘postcard from Tour’ ending each chapter. Moreover, he intersperses his own writing, editing, and troubleshooting experiences throughout the text.

Palahniuk likewise name-drops writers – from his own colleagues to earlier wordsmiths. In so doing, he opens up a new world for every aspiring scribe. Towards the end, he gives his own reading lists (both fiction and nonfiction), most of which are works I’ve never heard of. He admits that he maintains a solid relationship with his classmates. He learned on the fly as he became a bigger name and is happy to impart this learning to a new generation. He likes to describe this element as his ‘kitchen-table MFA’. There’s even a blurb about taking the right author pic. Chuck also foregrounds the city of Portland, much like the Portlandia TV series. He utilises such giants as Steinbeck, Fitzgerald and Vonnegut to drive his point home, but he also mentions lesser-known shows and films.  

Rating: 4.37/5

Unbreakable. (Dokic) My third read was a surprise find as I only stumbled upon the biography. Dokic was the hero of the 2009 Aussie Open, when she charged onto the quarters. She was a refugee twice: first in Serbia, then in Australia, where her family settled. She was born in Croatia before coming to Serbia, where she quickly learned the language and made new friends before migrating to Sydney. They lived in abject conditions, before her flair for forehands offered them a chance. Her dad, Damir, introduced her to the sport after compatriot Monica Seles awed him. Soon he was putting her through a gruelling training regimen, making her hit balls for hours. He also brought her to the tennis club for coaches to add some grace her gung-ho game. She was always a model student in her childhood even as her father became ‘the tennis dad from hell.’

Dokic had a meteoric rise, becoming the youngest Aussie to win a Fed Cup match. However, she often became the outsider, both in school and with her teammates. She copped the abuse from her dad, whether she won or lost. He was very controlling, not only in her finances but also in her social life. As a teenager, she beat the world number one while also reaching the semis in Wimbledon. She rose to as high as world number four. Her dad’s theatrics were stealing the headlines away from her on-court success. Give Jelena credit though for being tough. Though she lost matches, we should applaud her trying under duress. We see her triumphs and setbacks, witness her rising from the ashes. Her challenges remind me of Open, which I read last year. Agassi also faced his turmoil and, like Jelena, had a mid-career crisis.

While her family life is beset with trouble, she manages to find love later on. She considers her younger brother as her rock. She switched sides to Serbia because of her dad, but she always considered Oz as her home. She likewise missed five or six Aussie Opens as a result of this fallout. However, her comeback couldn’t be scripted better, and the crowd remained loyal to her. Her tale is full of fabulous characters: from her incredible dad to a formula one race car driver; an absent coach to formidable tennis foes. Dokic was forced to retire early due to bothersome injuries but hearing about her life in full, is a privilege. Unbreakable is a story of what-ifs, of lessons learned, of life – a game more than tennis.   

Rating: 5/5

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The Inbetweeners (2008-2010) reviewed

Few Brit comedies could be as riotous and raunchy as The Inbetweeners. Through three seasons from 2008, the show gave us hilarious entertainment as we became scopophilic over four Pom teenagers. Each season consists of six episodes which run for roughly twenty-five minutes. While a teen sex comedy on the surface, the programme touches on some key social issues. These include growing up in naughties UK, sexual tension among teens, cramming for exams, bad cafeteria food, and scheming about the opposite sex. We witness them as they get their driving licenses, celebrate their birthdays, own their first cars, drink their first lager…you get my drift.

Welcome to Rudge Park

As mentioned, the series follows the lives of four British men in sixth form. The series takes place at the fictional Rudge Park Comprehensive. At the onset, Will is the newbie, trying to fit in and gather some friends. He meets constant disappointment along the way until he meets Simon. After sticking with him like a glove, he and Si become good mates. Si also introduces him to his dim-witted pals: Jay, the boastful one, and the equally unintelligent Neil. Will is different from the boys as he can be a nerdy prude; the glasses complete the look. During one particular episode, he is seen studying for the exam while other takers are mucking around. On the day, he remembers nothing and chokes as he considers the test paper. Like the rest of the lads, he has an awful record in wooing women. The programme operates using crude humour to great effect. From panties to body parts, the abject to raging hormones, Inbetweeners is never one to shy away from controversy.

Pranksters

The show is full of pranks with Jay often being the culprit. The latter often yaps but couldn’t walk the talk. In many cases, he does this to fool his mates and leave them in unenviable scenarios. During Neil’s birthday, his dad gives him a bike as a present. The gang then heads to the shop to pick it up. While sizing up the ride, Jay lets slip that he is a professional motocross driver. He barely listens as the assistant gives him directions on how to use it. He then turns it on…before smashing into a wall. The point of hanging with the dudes is to score some clunge. Jay is expert on patrol. Being a raunchy comedy, there are a number of hook-ups in the series. Jay’s heart is notably broken, while the rest have varying degrees of success with the birds. Even parents are not safe from the group, as Neil’s dad is seen as a ‘pedo’ while Will’s mum gets constant attention, even from the principal.

Fresh

The writers made it a point to avoid stagnancy. The school may be the staple, which includes Gilbert, the indomitable principal, and Donovan, the pesky bully. The group makes it a point to pester Gilbert, who is only too happy to dish out detention. The Gilbert character reminds us a bit of Professor Snape in Harry Potter. He is stern to a fault with his subjects but doesn’t mind bending the rules for his own cause. Regardless, the show sees the foursome go on trips to a caravan park, to an amusement park, to go fishing, and to London. They head to Will’s house, to Carli’s house, to a shopping mall and cinema. The transport is often a joke, like Will’s yellow bug – a gift from his dad. In case you missed it, the car has one red door. Will has a massive crush on his classmate Carli, though he gets constantly busted. More than once, the advice he gets from Jay on women, lets him down. The girlish car begets many laughs, seeing them squashed in like that. Further along, Neil’s own wheels was just as comic.    

Big voice

Will holds the distinction of being the narrator. He does a fair bit of voice-over during each episode. At the end of every ep, he summarises the events for the viewer. Of course, none of the four were teenagers during the series. Jay’s improbable stories and the ensuing disasters make for wild viewing. These blokes keep comparing war stories that we just marvel at their absurdity. Sure, they do not have the evidence to back their claims. When Si gets a match, the three of them foil him. One time they join him all the way to Bristol. Will himself would go out of his way just to get some clunge. If this means helping out at a nursing home for two shifts, then so be it. Ironically, plain and gullible Neil is the one who gets the action.

Here to stay

While all four have their flaws, together they are a winning combo. That is one heavy theme we could cull from the show. Though all of them may suffer heartbreak at some point, they always have each other. The Inbetweeners may be a decade gone, and there have been two movies since. I sat with my friend for the second one, which I found highly unoriginal (with a few laughs). The show’s protagonists have since gotten married and settled down. However, teenage angst, rebelling against a system, and learning things together, is here to stay. As a final note, the show I’ve seen that comes closest would be American Vandal.

Rating: 4.9/5

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NBL Finals wrap

The best-of-five NBL (National Basketball League) Finals series between the Perth Wildcats and the Sydney Kings commenced on Sunday, 8 March. Since the latter had home-court advantage, being the minor premiers, they hosted Game 1. With eleven thousand supporters at the arena, at least there was a significant fan presence. The Cats proved too much to handle against the Kings, winning by a deuce. Game 1 was a thrilling affair which, as the tally suggests, went down to the wire. Lead changes and deadlocks were common, making this the most watchable game of the tilt. The final score was 88-86. Two-time MVP Bryce Cotton erupted for 32 markers, while NBA vet Andrew Bogut posted a double-double of 18 and 12 for the home team.

Game 2

However, against the imposing shadow of the coronavirus, the Australian government announced a cap of 500 people in indoor gatherings. Quick aside: the figure has since been decreased to 100 individuals. This negated the crowd presence not only in the NBL but in sporting leagues across the country. Thus, the remainder of the Final series was played to near-empty stadiums, with only players, team personnel, and officials allowed inside the venues. Back in Perth and facing a potential 0-2 deficit, the Kings quickly turned the tables, leading at every quarter time. Game 2 was a dominant display, with American Jae’sean Tate leading the charge. The swingman finished with 20 points. Meanwhile, Cats big man Miles Plumlee once again dominated the boards, racking up eight rebounds. Cotton led the visitors with twenty-seven points and three helpers. The struggles of Kings star Casper Ware were well documented all series long, as he put up brick after brick. Game 2 saw the Kings score 97, while the Cats managed 85.

‘Nothing but Cotton’

Game 3 was back in Qudos Bank Arena (Sydney), and once again the Wildcats felt right at home. They had a torrid first canto, leading the Kings, 29-18 at the break. Much like Game 2, the Cats led at every turn. The quintets once again played without the fans. By the match conclusion, Cotton had his second 30-point game of the series and Nick Kay chipped in with twelve caroms. Tate once again led the Kings, putting up twenty in a losing effort. When the clock ran out, it was Perth 111 against Sydney, 96. Game 4 was supposed to be played in Perth last Friday. However, with the Kings unwilling to jet to Perth, the remainder of the Finals was cancelled. In fairness to the Kings, there were already restrictions being placed on air travel.

‘The decision’

The semi-professional league then announced that they will deliberate on the outcome of the series. The Wildcats immediately lobbied for them to be crowned as champions, given they were up 2-1 and that the Kings eschewed travelling for a Game 4. Shortly thereafter, the NBL announced that they were indeed handing the Cats the 2020 trophy while Cotton won his third Finals MVP. While some might not agree with the decision, remember that the Cats won two road games in this series and were hosting Game 4 for the clincher. This marks the tenth title for the Perth outfit since they joined in 1982. They have won four of the last five overall and have raised six banners since 2010.

NBL Storylines

This year’s NBL has not been short of storylines. For starters, Hawks guard LaMelo Ball proved that he belonged. He staked his claim for the number one NBA pick with his well-rounded game. The Breakers’ RJ Hampton was equally impressive. The future NBAer showed poise beyond his years, earning praise from hoops legend Chris Paul. Tenacious guard Damian Martin was also a key to the Cats’ victory. His ball-hawking, hustle, and deflections were winning plays for Perth. He’s been a vital cog, if not a staple, for the club all these years later. This year’s championship was also notable for being near-unchartered territory for the Kings’ Brad Newley. In sixteen years as a pro in Europe and the NBL, a chip has eluded Newley. Nine teams competed in this year’s NBL season, with four advancing to the postseason. There were 9 matches in the semis, with the Cairns Taipans and Melbourne United losing to the eventual finalists. The record attendance for the season was 17,514 in the Kings-Hawks matchup, while average attendance was 6,903. The league has called time on the season due to Coronavirus fears, but it’s made a springboard for future success, whether locally or abroad.

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Which Slam Dunk character are you?

When I was in school, anime was a big thing. Although there were a few favourites, none was bigger than Slam Dunk (SD). The basketball comedy was a massive hit among the teeners, which the show’s high school setting greatly aided. Furthermore, all of these productions were ‘Tagalized’, meaning they were dubbed in Filipino for optimal effect. I remember my fellow students braving the rush hour just to get a glimpse of the action. Years later, this reminded me of tennis superstar Rafa Nadal, who, as a kid, would hurry home to catch eps of Dragonballz. SD has a fairly large cast, with disparate characters across various high schools in the ‘Kanagawa District’. While SD obviously chronicles the shocking rise of Shohoku High and their dance in the Interhigh tournament, SD is also a portrait into the maturation of a ball player. Friendship, rivalries, school priorities, and family, form some of the key themes in the presentation. Though it is not as exhaustive as the original manga, the programme can function as a handy snapshot into high school life and basketball dreams in days of yore.

Kaede Rukawa #11 (forward). Though only a freshman, he is the undisputed ace player of Shohoku High. He yearns to be a complete talent, honing his outside shooting while being a deadly slasher and improving defender. He single-handedly carried his squad in the game against Kainan, while going mano-a-mano with Sendoh in the next match. Off the court, he can be found sleeping – even while riding his bike. Being the number one player in Japan is his goal.

Sakuragi (forward). The redhead assassin is the star of the show. He is noted for his quick temper, his braggadocio, and his rebounding prowess on the court. He is a self-styled genius who hates losing and has a massive crush on Haruko. He is also enamoured with the art of the slam dunk. While he initially joined the club to impress Haruko, he grows to love the game and becomes the chairman of the boards. While away from the hardwood, he likes to hang out with his clique. The series explores his development from gung-ho beginner to a staple in Shohoku’s first five. His steep learning curve, which includes dribbling and layups, is mined for comic effect. His constant foul trouble is likewise foregrounded. On the team, he is closest to Miyagi. He likes comparing himself to great players like Sendoh and Rukawa, with the end result of winning Haruko’s heart. Coaches and fellow players often cite his tremendous leaping and caroming ability, secretly admitting that he is a star in waiting. He has ongoing rivalries with Kainan’s Nobunaga and with Fukuda and by series end, his jump shot has become just as dependable as the latter’s.

 

Takenori Akagi #4 (Centre). The hulking slotman is the team’s captain and longest-tenured player together with Kogure. He came in together with Mitsui and yearned for Shohoku to be the best team in all of Japan. Uzmi of Ryonan is his greatest rival on the show. His skill set is a testament of the virtues of hard work and patience. While he used to be a lowly foul shooter, his obsessive work ethic on his free throws halted his being a liability in that area. Moreover, he is a beast underneath the basket with his post moves and agility, although the drop-off in the talent level around him has forced him to shoulder much of the burden. Unlike the rest of the team, he takes as much stock in his studies as he does with the hoop.

Hisashi Mitsui (Two guard). He was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) while with Takeshi Junior High. He feels a tremendous sense of indebtedness to Coach Anzai, who prodded him when he had lost all hope of snatching victory. He then signs on with Shohoku out of gratitude to the coach. He immediately states that his goal was to transform Shokoku into the primero outfit in the land. However, he tore his ACL and lost his way while on the sidelines. When he is in rhythm, he is arguably the best shooter in the district. This was never more apparent than in the Shoyo fixture. There, he drained five triples in the second half after being limited to only five points by intermission. He likewise did this against a much taller quintet. His defence is also pretty robust, as he was able to shut down Sakuragi while playing out of position. However, his lack of fitness after his time away from hoops has been his Achilles.

Ryoto Myagi #7 (point guard). He is the point man of the offence, setting up his teammates, high fiving them, and calling plays. He acts as the de facto coach on the floor and regards himself as the best point guard in Kanagawa. Popular opinion though would place him just behind Maki of Kainan and Fujima of Shoyo. He is Sakuragi’s best friend on the team. Though not the tallest playmaker, his incredible court vision allows him to see and read plays before they happen. Matched up against much taller foes like Maki and Sendoh, he rises to the challenge.

Kiminobu Kogure (forward). The four-eyed sixth man provides much-needed shooting and firepower off the Shohoku bench. He is the ultimate team player and reminds me of Lamar Odom, who spent time with the Lakers. His role may vary, and he may not even start, but he will always be there for his team. For instance, after Shohoku’s loss to Ryonan in the practice match, he comforts Sakuragi and tells him that there will be more contests to decide. He also supports Sakuragi’s claims of being a genius. Moreover, he likewise hit a crucial three which sealed the game against Ryonan.

Akira Sendoh #7 (Ryonan forward/guard). Rukawa’s main nemesis in the series. He could be fierce on the court but is playful off of it. He is often cited for being tardy, but he lets his game do the talking. In many ways, he is a better version of Rukawa and has played in bigger contests. He is also a year older. He often plays as a small forward but could also be utilised as a point guard. Towards the end of the programme, he teams up with Fukuda as the passer of alley-oops. His charm and grace as a ball player, together with his mad skills, make him a crowd favourite.

Jun Uozomi #4 (Ryonan centre). The tallest character in the series, who is even bigger than Akagi. He captains the Ryonan squad but is nowhere near as effective as Akagi. At first, he is just all height and no skills. Coach Taoka brings him in after seeing much potential in the teen. At the start, he has trouble catching up with the rest of Ryonan during drills, but eventually transforms into a monster down low. He, Sendoh, and Fukuda form the team’s core. After Shohoku eliminates Ryonan, he is seen working at his father’s ramen shop.  

Kicchou Fukuda (Ryonan forward). As per above, Fukuda has a rivalry with Sakuragi. He is noted for his curly hair; thus, Sakuragi calls him ‘Fukulot’. He is a quick learner but favours praise over criticism. He is moved to tears after the crowd chants his name in the Kainan game. He is a perimeter player who has an accurate jump shot, and he can score in bunches. However, he is also a defensive liability.

Nobunaga Kyota. (#10, forward). A fellow rookie for the Kings of Kanagawa, he likes to think that he is a better player than Rukawa. Though unimposing, he can dunk and block shots over taller cagers regularly. He is also farther along in his development than Sakuragi, although his immaturity mimics the latter. Regardless, he is the only first-year man in Kainan’s starting lineup. That certainly stands for something, given the rigorous winnowing of hopefuls in the team. His block off Mitsui’s game-winning attempt secured the game against Shohoku. Pre-match against Ryonan, he also tried to throw the ball off the glass for a one-man alley-oop but comically ended up making the shot. Kyota is one of the series’s most entertaining characters.

Of course, I could name more roles, expand it into Maki and Jin of Kainan, Hanagata and Fujima of Shoyo. I could even get started on the coaches. I’ve watched this series in three versions: Filipino, English, and Japanese. Without a doubt, this is a kids’ show. I was already a basketball fan when I started watching SD. However, viewing SD does not make you more of a kid or less of a real b-ball aficionado. With Dennis Rodman’s antics during the Chicago Bull’s title runs, the series may even be sort of prophetic. In the end, you could learn a thing or two from the king of rebounds. You don’t have to be a genius to put that together

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Late-season picks

Choosing the right book is galleons. This has never been truer than in my latest catalogue. Since my last list, I have summited a further three reads. However, there is more to the tally than what meets the eye. In between those three texts, I’ve tried my hand at other material. There was this thick Chernobyl book that looked like the real deal. I had to quit forty pages into it since it was just too…factual. This time, I took up two novels and one non-fiction book. Since I had one novel last time, I am now a balanced three and two between fiction and non-fiction for the year. At this point last year, I believe that I only had one non-fiction title. In chronological order, here are my late-summer picks:

  1. Broken (Slaughter). Another winner in the Will Trent series, this book forms the fourth instalment in the series. As I read more and more Slaughter, I’ve come to register her writing trademarks. Her novels often begin with a murder, in this case a coed drowning in the lake. At first, it appears to be an open-and shut case, as the Grant County police chief thinks so. However, Lena, one of his officers, sticks out her nose and finds out that the victim has been renting with the local dill. When confronted, the muppet acts really guilty, and ends up being booked. This is classic Slaughter, with a first salvo that outs the ‘bad guy’ until the rest of the novel proves otherwise.

Dr Sarah Linton is in town to escape the bustle of Atlanta’s emergency ward. She stays with family and envisions a pleasant holiday. However, her vacay is cut short as she goes all in trying to solve this unspeakable transgression. Therefore, she calls in the biggies, specifically Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent, Will Trent. She will come to know of Trent’s dyslexia, surprised that he could hide it so well. Together they make a formidable duo: Sarah’s brains and Will’s detective skills. They follow leads, overcome red tape, and encounter a cover-up. Faith Mitchell, Will’s partner, is a notable absence here. This being the fourth book in the popular series, is hard to believe. Slaughter remains on fire, her writing crisp and bitey: Broken is a worthy addition.

Rating: 4.23/5

  • Permanent Record (Snowden). My only non-fiction foray sees the world’s most famous whistle-blower and a worthy account. Critics lauded both this and Chernobyl. There are some overlaps between the two. However, I found the latter rather hard to read. Meanwhile, PR, while technical, was not unreadable. PR captures the post-9/11 aftermath as governments went about their business. The book deals with loss, with gain, with the past, the cruel present, and an uncompromising tomorrow. Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (my last non-fiction read) would be in a similar vein. PR is a work that both the familiar and uninitiated would appreciate.

Rating: 4.32/5

  • Blood Work (Connelly). This is my latest read and my first Connelly of the year so far. BW is another gripping read, and the pages turn fast. This time it’s ex-FBI agent Terry McCaleb as he tries to piece together the murderer of the woman who gave him his heart. The murder of Gloria (his donor) is connected to two similar killings. However, with no new leads or angles, the case has stalled. Enter Terry. He spends most of his days tending his boat in the marina. Yet when the victim’s sister, Graciela, shows up one day, he cannot take this sitting down.

He begins his own investigation, getting support from Jaye Winston, the sheriff’s detective. Not only does he get a copy of the murder book, but he makes his own timeline and cartography of the persons of interest. Tied down by other cases, the officers assigned were unable to do either. This is a 90s book, complete with VHS, answering machines, faxes, and desktops. What was cutting-edge back then may well be extinct or, at best, modified, these days. However, we could learn a thing or two from the past. This is also the first McCaleb book I’ve read, and perusing it makes me feel like navigating a time capsule.

As Terry reviews the tapes, he is convinced that this is not some random take-down. The matador makes it a point to say something to the camera. Attention turns to James Noone, the only witness. McCaleb conducts a hypnosis session to get more out of him. However, this turns into a mess as they get nothing of consequence. Who is this mysterious witness? Why is he named Noone? Soon, Terry infers that this is a blood thing, hence the title. He thinks that the valuable organs of the donors (who fits the same profile) is the reason the killer has ran amuck. The murderer’s trail leads far from Cali to the shores of Mexico. Even as the Feds are hot on his trail, no one knows him better than Terry himself. As with other Connelly’s, the protagonist takes the cause into his own hands. The enemy likes to think that Terry owes him his life. However, in the end, McCaleb might save more than just his life. The book’s reaches has made it to Hollywood, where Clint Eastwood directed and starred in an underwhelming adaptation.

Rating: 4.6/5

We must take something from books that we read. If the characters grow, then so should we. Reading for fun is not the same as reading to better ourselves. To improve or not, that is the question.  

 Book for now:

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Dark (2017-) reviewed

Dark is a German-language series that has garnered rave reviews over the course of its two-season run. While initially appearing as a small-town drama, the show heavily incorporates elements of time travel. Relationship struggles, power discords, crime, school, ageing, and youth represent some of the tropes. The programme shifts between different time periods, with thirty-three-year intervals. Dark is notable for being the first German-language show on one of the streaming providers. Some viewers have opined that the show reminded them of ‘Stranger Things’. Following the success of the first two series, the show has been renewed for a third and final season. 

Winden

The show follows four families in Winden, starting in the present before alternating between 1986 and 1953. The second season utilises similar timing, but a year later. Winden, though fictional, is a picturesque town in the countryside. This barrio could stand for any other German locale. In short, Winden forms a microcosm of evolving Germany. Jonas is one of the main characters, who loses his dad Michael at the onset. His mother, Hannah, is together with the married Ulrich. The latter suddenly comes to his senses after his youngest son, Mikkel, goes missing. Mikkel goes through the wormhole and comes out in 1987. Here, he is under the care of a nurse. He likewise meets Hannah and marries her, changing his name to Michael. Other residents soon discover the delights of the tunnel, including Jonas and Ullrich – who desperately wants to find his son. 

Portal

A mysterious group known as Sic Mundus apparently owns the rights to the wormhole. Situated in a cave on the outskirts of town, the portal becomes the agent of escape. Several children deemed unworthy become dead ball. The whole process reminds me of ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ or ‘Being John Malkovich’, where you could count on your own adventure once you get past that door. However, as the townsfolk would find out, you almost never ‘get to live happily ever after.’ Often, you do not end up in your desired time period. In every instance, you become an anachronism. Whether travelling forward or the opposite, you will not just blend in. Your strange clothes and items will mark you as an outsider. You have to think on the fly or you will be outed. What you did yesterday has a ripple effect in the river of time. Changing the past endangers a domino effect. 

While ‘Stranger Things’ has a sizeable cast, the various time periods and volatile faces make Dark a confusing series. However, the show remains a riveting watch. While the different periods may inspire head-scratching, it is also a visual feast. One of the characters, H. G. Tannhaus, is a watchmaker who authored the book, A Journey through Time. Said text is a staple in the plot. Apart from penning the impressive work, Tannhaus is notable for building a time machine. Mention of time travel elicits similar reactions: utter surprise, awe, and disbelief. Whether they be adults or teenagers, the notion of time travel – even in 2020 – is an improbable conceit. 

Fifties, Eighties, and now

The crew does an admirable job of capturing the peaks and valleys of various stretches. For instance, the show provides a good image of German families in the eighties and nowadays. Moreover, small-town politics are explored, giving us insight in how areas like Winden operate. The show likewise unpacks teenage life in ‘87 and 2019/20. In addition, childhood is presented, revealing the jump from rural, undeveloped 1953/54 to retro eighties and finally, the present. The programme goes a step further, supplying a bleak vision of the future. In Dark’s universe, tomorrow looks more like an episode of ‘The Walking Dead’. The show delivers an effective message; upon eyeing the incredible scenes you’d say, ‘I’ll having what they’re having.’ While there are many storylines, Dark did well in focusing their attention on one setting only. All in all, it’s a formidable show that ticks many boxes. 

Rating: 4.76/5

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Bad Boys 3 reviewed

Just this past week, my friend and I sauntered to the cinemas. My pal had made it clear a while ago that he wanted to see Bad Boys. The third instalment in the action-comedy franchise sees maestro Jerry Bruckheimer returning as producer. This project has been sixteen years in the making, the last edition released in 2004. The first two movies were box office hits and both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were seen as bankable star players. There have been a few posts on my social media feed centring around the buddy cop feature. While Bad Boys 3 will not win many awards, the plot twists, light-heartedness, character development, and thrilling sequences would convert many purists.  

Mike and Marcus

At the onset, Isabel Aretas, the widow of slain mastermind Benito, is liberated from a Mexican gaol by her son, Armando. Isabel is a weird gal who worships Santa Muerte and has a grudge against a group of Miami berks. Sending Armando to Miami, she tasks him with eliminating them all, ensuring that Detective Mike Lowrey (of Miami Police) is killed last. Meanwhile, Mike and Marcus (Lawrence) are in a hurry as they make a beeline for the birth of Marcus’s first grandson. The latter tells Mike shortly that he has decided to retire, much to Mike’s disappointment. Mike is shot while on a running bet with Marcus, but Isabel rebukes her son for not following her orders. While Mike recovers, Armando then eliminates the other targets on the hit list with ease.

Long story short, Marcus does not want any more bloodshed, thereby refusing to help the vengeful Mike. Marcus is labelled ’Quitter’ and the latter refuses to acknowledge his attempts at contact. Mike will not rest until he vanquishes the sniper. He repels his colleagues’ orders and thrusts himself onto the case, joining the amateurs in AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations). As he tries to find answers, his nemesis thwarts him. His overzealous streak gets in the way of AMMO’s by-the-book methods. However, his gym work helps him go mano a mano with Armando, even as the bastard escapes his claws. A few times in the film, Marcus tells Mike that the time is ripe to settle down. They’ve been chasing baddies forever and have given so much to Miami. They cannot get everyone. Mike reiterates the need to catch them anyway.

AMMO

When Mike’s long-time captain and mentor is assassinated right before him, Marcus agrees to join the effort, but only with AMMO’s close cooperation. Their efforts lead them to Lorenzo ‘Zway-Lo’ and his birthday party, inspiring a car chase. A helicopter rescue for Zway-Lo finds Armando firing at Mike, who dodges them like Will Ferrell. As Mike falls then floats onto South Beach, Armando taunts him with some pseudo-Spanish. This was when Mike realises that there is a connection between the hunt and hunted. In other words, this was more than just a vendetta. Though Marcus has misgivings, he travels with AMMO to confront Isabel. In Mexico, the apotheosis unfolds. Old flames will be rekindled and the truth behind the aforementioned connection will be revealed. True to form, we could expect a fitting parting shot from this crew.

Solid effort

This is a pretty solid movie. For one, the cast is formidable with the dual appeal of its frontmen. Vanessa Hudgens (as an AMMO officer), Paola Nunez (as head of AMMO), and Charles Melton (Rafe) all add colour. Jacob Scipio, who is actually British, is also relentless as Armando. As mentioned, there is clear character progress through the film. For instance, the reticent Marcus re-evaluates his priorities, choosing between his real family and his acquired family at Miami PD. Thus, he chooses the dangerous life over sheltered automation. Furthermore, Armando shows remorse at film’s end. He transforms from Rambo into a more watered-down version later on. Throughout the runtime, family and brotherhood are significant themes. My friend mentioned that the movie didn’t feel like two hours. The fast-paced nature of the picture made it easy to follow and only adds more sparkle.   

A sequel that delivers

Bad Boys for Life made a splash at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film of the year thus far. Furthermore, the production represents the biggest-ever January release. Apart from this, the movie was also a hit among critics who lauded the pair of leading men and how the film stuck to its strengths. So successful has the instalment been that Sony, the distributor, had talked about a sequel after opening week. Personally, I think the movie was a good showcase of black culture, especially with Martin Lawrence and his personality. The film reminded me of Rush Hour, another buddy-cop comedy. In this instance, Will Smith = Lee and Martin Lawrence portrayed Carter. While the genre is not as prevalent as before, Bad Boys proves that there is still a place for buddy-cop films but only if done the right way.

Rating: 3.93/5

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