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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Rouse Hill, NSW: a gem on the fringes of Sydney

Recently, I celebrated mi cumpleanos. I wanted to go somewhere different, but no ideas were jumping at me. I had heard about Rouse Hill before and decided to give it a try. Prior to my birthday, I’ve never visited the suburb. I once mentioned it to my ex-neighbour, but he told me that it was quite far. Indeed, the place is the second-last stop on the Northwest Metro, in the Hills District of Sydney. We will find out more about their Town Centre, a one-floor plaza that is unique from the other offerings in the Harbour City. When we ventured into Rouse Hill, this was the farthest we’ve been on the Northwest Metro. Before then, Castle Hill held that distinction.

Proximate

The first thing I noted about the Centre was the proximity to the metro stop. While not next-door like Castle Towers, the Centre is hardly a walk from the station. Reading Cinemas are one of the first things you’ll see. The plaza is just one storey high, making it unique. Moreover, it is laid out like a real town square, complete with roads and divided into quadrants. At last count, there are 245 services and stores in the vicinity. Total commercial space is 69,700 square metres. Ergo, Rouse Hill is roughly the size of Chatswood Chase, which clocks in at 63,619 square metres. However, whereas the latter is situated on four storeys, the plaza’s retail area(as pointed out) is concentrated only on one floor.

The town centre has five anchor tenants: Big W, Kmart (incoming), Woolworths, Coles, and the aforementioned theatres. Kmart will replace the departing Target. Apart from the five, the square also has a JB HiFi, a Reject Shop, and a Best & Less. The centre has been around since March of 2008. The architects had worked on the highly original design since 2003. The centre is much more than a mall, having been earmarked for both retail and entertainment use. There are office spaces, a community centre, a library, office spaces, communes, and housing.

Lunch spot

We started our day by wandering round for a lunch pick. We considered this café but inferred that it wouldn’t be any different from the usual fare at home. Thai and sushi were also regulars. It was then a toss-up between Cuban and Mexican cuisine. I chose the latter. We first went to Cotton On. Giant signs advertised discounts of up to fifty percent off. A quick browse revealed “much ado about nothing.” We then visited Just Jeans. They had a sale rack with three different linen shirts. I believe they were all in blue colourways. While the price wasn’t bad, I wasn’t a fan of their sizing.

Browsing

We visited The Reject Shop (TRS) and bought some food items. I remember overhearing an Asian couple who pronounced Ree-ject as “Reh-ject.” We then asked around for Specsavers, where I had a browse. I used my member benefits on two pairs of shades. I noted that there are at least three optometrists in the plaza. We were looking for Jeanswest. After a fair search, we realised that Jeanswest was in the same area as TRS. I tried on a shirt and tee, but they didn’t tickle my fancy. After this, we stopped by Best & Less. I got this light brown pullover. While it was pretty basic without any humongous logos or prints, the colour was eye catching. Perhaps others had the same idea, as there was only one left in my size.

We dropped by this shoe store but there was nothing to see there. We also went to a nearby men’s store. I got this navy Henley. I haven’t shopped with them in a while. We then had supper at the Food Terrace. My guest told me that the mall was very well-designed, and that the food court was unrivalled. They mentioned the general lack of escalators. Furthermore, the centre had high ceilings, which isn’t common in malls around Sydney. In addition, they reminded me that the town centre had no main entrance. Thus, the plaza had more of a village feel. Rouse Hill was also mostly open-air and is closer to the high street model. Detailed climactic studies were done in light of the design’s novelty. As a result, the centre’s carbon footprint is a one-fourth less than the standard New South Wales mall.

A cut above the rest

‘They want to be different,’ they told me. ‘I believe that they take stock of all the other malls in Sydney. Having observed their similarities, they worked on being one of a kind.’ I would later learn that the planners did their research. They walked on King Street, Newtown and Oxford Street in Paddington; took in the high street in the Blue Mountains. They even went jetted to Santorini, Greece for understanding and balance. As noted, a famous fast-food shop was closed so early. Afterward, we then went to Woolies and bought some stuff. We weren’t able to go to Big W; we also passed by Dymocks. We waited a little for the next service.

In general, I understood that the centre is more of an upmarket one. For instance, they have a Country Road but are missing a discount grocer. In general, patronage wasn’t heavy, and many shops were ignored. I will purport that business isn’t booming. There was also a mixed bag of shoppers; the clientele was ethnically diverse. As per above, the latter term is not a loose word on the project. Diversity may be a common signifier for the project, but the parties involved sought a designing canvass with environmental and spatial diversity. Three practices took on the task of creating the town centre and thus was an exercise of collaboration. Many contributors were involved, with over seventy-five designers from the three practices.  

Birthday pick

All in all, it was nice to do something different on my birthday. The centre offered a lot of open space, plants, and wide walkways. The fact that it’s a fair distance away from the city centre has enabled this. If you’re from the area, the square has most of what you need. From gastronomy to fashion, department stores to books, movies to shoes, Rouse Hill has something for everyone. Once in a while, you have to get out of your comfort zone. It’s not every day that you’ll have to make the extra effort, the added travel. Each year, you’ll only have one birthday to remember.

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La nina reads

This summer has been unseasonably milder. The heat came in spots, with cloud cover and showers taking its place. The cooler temperature and occasional rain could be attributed to La Nina. Regardless, the first month of the year saw me labouring through Obama’s new release. I spent two weeks trying to grapple with his prose and yet I only got through half of his Presidential memoir. Apparently, this tome was just part one of a two-book deal. After the fortnight, and seeing no let-up in his dense writing, I decided that the book wasn’t for me. Since then, I’ve finished When the Game was Ours (2010). The nonfiction title dealt with the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivalry. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war classic, rounds out my first list since the holidays.

  • A Promised Land (Obama). I’ve been hearing good things about this book, which was released late last year. I understand that the writing took four years, longer than any such memoir. Promised Land is a laborious look into his first term in office. In the text, Obama talks only briefly of his beginnings and his family. However, I noticed that he spent a hundred pages on his handling of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). He also does a poor job democratising this section in layman’s terms. Moreover, his Presidential campaign is laid out in excruciating and ingratiating detail. Without question, Obama was the best person for the job when he competed for the Oval Office. He also touches on the difficulty of being a family man while trying to be leader of the free world.

He is codenamed ‘Renegade’ and has Secret Service detail assigned to him even before he took office. He also singled out the Bushes as gracious hosts. He had to outclass a spirited Hillary Clinton to garner the Democratic nomination. That he was able to unite black and white, young and old, rich and poor, straight or gay, is astounding. He swept over the nation like a juggernaut and made Americans believe that “Yes, we can.” He mentions his opponent, John McCain, and how the latter didn’t have a GFC plan even though he called the crisis meeting. Before his victory, he also faced failure as he attempted to secure a seat in the House of Representatives.

For the uninitiated, there is almost no humour in this one. Instead, there is a surfeit of lists. Every few paragraphs, you are met with these sets. Obama also likes to flaunt his pompous vocabulary. If you’re not careful, you would spend almost as much time checking your dictionary as you are reading this volume. This is not the kind of book that you could just cruise on, and yet Promised Land is very well-received. On the plus side, Obama is very cordial with his fans. All in all: an ambitious project that is a few times too complex and lengthy.

Note: Did Not Finish (DNF)

  • When the Game was Ours (Larry Bird & Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan). This is an insider’s look into one of the game’s most storied rivalries. Bird and Magic rejuvenated the league when it was in dire straits. When the pair entered in 1979, NBA (National Basketball Association) games were on tape delay. Arenas around the L struggled to put fans in the seats. Indeed, the Association was lagging behind their college counterparts in attendance and charm. I’ve read both stars’ separate biographies and there was some overlap here. However, the first chapter was notably new to me. Their first meeting was not at the college final but in an invitational for college players. They were both benchwarmers then.

Bird’s failed stint at Indiana was also nice to know. He only lasted a month or so, before an injury and homesickness became the tipping point. Bird starred at Indiana State, where he led his team of underdogs all the way to the ‘last dance’. There, they met Magic – who had the better squad. They would meet again thrice on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals. The Lakers and Beantown were seen as binary opposites: glitz and glamour as opposed to grit and grind. Together with commissioner Stern, they would take the L to new heights. The Association became international and the pair, their brightest stars. Yet, despite their shared history, they remained competitive off the court. If you’re after the same thing, there’s no place for bearhugs.  

This book wasn’t just about Bird and Magic though. We see Coach Riley in detail, the hombre who pushed the Lakers more than anybody else. We witness how Kareem beat Father Time. Magic’s other teammates are there, too. His closest friends on the squad are defensive specialist Michael Cooper and guard Byron Scott. The former was Bird’s toughest marker. We scrutinise the best frontline in league history (Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale). Meanwhile, Larry Legend talks about his other fabled teammates: the late Dennis Johnson, Dave Cowens, and Tiny Archibald. We regard the Dream Team up close, the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled. Moreover, these superstars put their egos aside in their quest to reclaim American b-ball supremacy. Game is a nostalgic look into the contrasting duo’s defining moments.

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut). This is my first foray into Vonnegut; my chiropractor gifted this to me. On the surface, the title seems like a light read (because it is). At only eleven chapters and 215 pages, the mass market paperback packs a lot despite the brevity. Slaughterhouse tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, who served during World War Two. Vonnegut makes it a point to detail all the horrors of war while using fictional books to add colour. The author likewise employs heavy postmodern elements such as self-referentiality, repetition (so it goes), and intertextuality. Slaughterhouse isn’t just a crusade against war, but an anti-love story, a time-travelling discourse, an otherworldly exploration. Fifty years since its publication, the novel remains relevant.

In the book, Billy gets to occasionally teleport to a planet called Tralfamadore. This inclusion, among others, provides the book with improbable scenarios. The situations are reminiscent of Bret Ellis’s implausible turns. He switches back and forth between present-day New York and his past experiences. We are privy to his wartime travails, though he hardly sees any real combat. Furthermore, his family life is touched on, from his parents to his wife. We comprehend that he works as an optometrist. However, he becomes a shell of his former self and is hospitalised. This could be linked to the ravages of war.

Throughout the book, Vonnegut references various texts. Some of them are bona fide, but most are there to keep you honest. There is likewise considerable humour in this one. This is not only apparent in comic situations, but also in the appellations of characters and books, and the unbelievable quotes. Though written in the sixties and with a substantial dose of that period, the title is easy enough to navigate. Unlike other classics, Slaughterhouse is breezy prose. The book was quickly adapted into an award-winning film. Recently, I visited a library and the assistant discerned my copy of Slaughterhouse. Seeing their reaction, I told him that the book is actually funny, which stands in contrast to the frightening cover.

Rating: 4.65/5

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Egpytian Revolution: Ten years on

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution. While the widescale protest commenced on the 25th of January, the coup lasted until the eleventh of February 2011. For two weeks, the nation held the world’s attention. The protesters rallied against government abuse and corruption, and thirty years of malfeasance. They were pining for the head of then-President Hosni Mubarak. In particular, his crimes against his political enemies were at the top of their agenda. Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the focal point of the action, much like EDSA in the Philippines. For the uninitiated, the second People Power revolt ousted then-President Joseph Estrada.

A different revolution

Unlike the (generally) placid protests in Manila, the Egyptian version was not a peaceful one. While there was only one fatality at EDSA 2.0, 846 people perished in Cairo and in excess of 6,000, injured. This was a result of the violent encounters between rallyists and security forces. The masses retaliated by setting fire to over 90 cop stations. During the insurrection, Cairo was deemed ‘a war zone’. Moreover, the demonstrations spread to cities around the nation, including Alexandria and Suez. The eleventh of February saw Mubarak resigning from his aerie. He ceded power to the military, which announced the suspending of the constitution, dissolving of Parliament, and military rule for half a year.

Women and the military

Several factors made the movement gain traction. In my post, ‘Anatomising the Egyptian Quandary’, I dealt with the role of media disruption, online activity, and social media. There is little need to rehash those observations. The part that women and the military played also must not be discounted. While the ladies only accounted for ten percent of prior protests, this figure rose up to fifty percent. They made their voices heard, whether veiled or not. The Egyptian Armed Forces were better regarded than their police counterparts. However, as they led the country and clashed with protesters, their reputation nosedived.

Demands met

Ten years on, what has the mass protests achieved? They deposed their abusive leader, lifting a historic thirty-one-year state of emergency. Mubarak’s cronies at the top were likewise footnotes. Mubarak died under house arrest last year. Before then, he was charged and detained for his crimes. His two sons likewise joined him there. Other abusive government agencies were disbanded or dissolved. Elections took place for the first time in time immemorial. For many Egyptians, this was their initial chance to cast their ballot. The locals discerned their strength in numbers. When the succeeding government was no different, they again took to the streets and gained results. While the old guard has links to Mubarak, their younger brethren are American pawns.

While the late master mind, Mubarak, is the obvious enemy, his toppling did not spell the end of discrimination or corruption. The military has imprisoned over ten thousand enemies of the government. A third of young people are job seekers. Quality of life has not improved for the average Egyptian. However, the masses’ demands for an increased minimum wage has been met. The protesters chanted four main demands: ‘jobs, freedom, social justice, and human dignity.’ The realisation of these claims is still in question. In light of the crisis, Egypt became a no-go zone for expatriates. Foreign nationals were directed to return home. Amnesty International spoke for most when they regarded the heavy-handed approach on protestors as ‘unacceptable’.

World reaction

The reaction around the world was mixed. Some leaders called for calm but advocated the need for reform. Ex-British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was the first world leader to visit. The resoluteness of the Egyptian masses moved US President Barrack Obama. Then-US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was another early guest. Meanwhile, many states in the area showed sympathy for Mubarak. Among them were the Saudis, which was strongly against the insurrection. The Egyptian masses found friends in Tunisia and Iran. Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, urged silence but one of his constituents sided with the multitude.

Indeed, this uprising is part of the so-called Arab Spring, where various countries across the Middle East rallied to depose their cruel masters. Tunisia came before Egypt, but neighbouring Libya and Syria followed suit. The Libyan struggle had a violent end for their erstwhile boss, Muamar Ghaddafi. However, the country remains in disarray. Meanwhile, the Syrian example was a far cry from Egypt. While Mubarak resigned, his Syrian counterpart did not. Cairo may have been a ‘war zone’ for a few weeks; Syria has been one ever since. Its citizens have become refugees and Aleppo – the largest city – is unrecognisable. Even with the help of the Americans’ superior weaponry, the masses could not turn the tide.

Common goal

It’s hard to believe that a full decade has passed since the Egyptians captured the world’s attention. As outlined above, the uprising rates fairly well when compared to others in the region. They have shown the world how it’s done. However, the Egyptian example also shows that rebuilding from the ashes is no simple task. More often than not, the replacement is just another variant of the king you so despised. (See also: Gloria Arroyo in Anatomising the Egyptian Quandary). I remember wandering round this Buddhist exhibit not long since the revolt. The older lady told me that she’s been to Egypt and that it is ‘fairly secular’. However, her visit was a while ago. Regardless, let’s detract nothing from what the masses have accomplished: the limitlessness of possibilities when the multitude works together.

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Narcos: Mexico (2018-) reviewed

A while ago, I reviewed Narcos. That series featured the War on Drugs, as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) contended with Colombian lions. The first two seasons focused on the hardworking agents in their bid to bring down Pablo Escobar, the king of coke. The third season saw them making inroads against the Cali cartel. The lavishness and impudence of the bad guys were front and centre. After three seasons, the show was rebooted. Hello, Narcos: Mexico. So far, there have been two editions of this spin-off, with the latest coming last year. The setting may have changed, but the culture of bureaucracy, barbarism, and corruption are still in play. On the plus side, the show remained a darling of the critics. Here is a quick analysis of the first two seasons.

Season 1 (2018)

The first series introduces us to Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna). Starting out as a copper in Sinaloa (Mexico), he uses his position to bail out his brother-in-law (Rafael Caro Quintera). They call the latter “henyo” (genius) for his inventive schemes to plant marijuana crops while evading authorities. The pair are convinced that big things are around the corner for them. Gallardo struggles with the demands of a young family and often has to improvise.

Felix also works for the local plaza boss, who controls the drug trade in their region. Their fortunes would turn when Angel convinces his superior to hold a tete-a-tete with the other plaza bosses. Here he befriends Don Neto, who was initially dismissive of his ideas. Gallardo’s ultimate goal is to unite all the warring Mexican factions under one banner. He personally met with these men, one by one, appeasing and courting them. The new alliance would feature Guadalajara, Sinaloa, Tijuana, and Juarez joining forces. His boss has a beef with Acosta and would not compromise. Angel ends up shooting him instead and becomes the virtual leader of the pack. A young Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman was one of his henchmen. With his pot operation in full swing, Miguel and his comrades live an opulent lifestyle. They have their mansions, and he buys his own hotel. They revel in sex, drugs, and money. In some angles, Luna reminds me of someone.

Meanwhile, Michael Pena is Kiki Camerana. The veteran Hollywood actor gives a memorable turn as the ambitious DEA agent who wants to ‘catch ‘em all’. He is equally adept at English and Spanish. Camarena is assigned with his family to Guadalajara, Mexico and he makes it his mission to capture the bastards. In one episode, he goes undercover to an undisclosed desert location, where he sees field upon field of ganja plants. The weeds ended up getting burned but not before the baddies make a run for it. This bust was not fiction and one of the largest of its kind in history. Already troubled before the bust, Quintero acted even more erratic after the fact. He was soon on a losing battle against his coke addiction. In Guadalajara, Kiki teams up with Commander Calderoni, who is seen as one of the few upstanding cops. Calderoni, unlike his contemporaries, would stand up to the bullies.

Despite his eagerness, the local police and the higher-ups in Washington D.C. refuse to tango. Even when he is in the same room as Rafa, they are ordered to let him walk. As his obsession with the plazas grow, he becomes more and more distant to his family. At one point, he almost misses the birth of his child. He also suffers from bad intel, which does not help matters with his colleagues. However, he remains unwavering in his conviction and is determined to see things out. The season ended on a sour note, with the abduction of Agent Camarena and the predictable red tape as the Americans scrambled to find him. As it turns out, the same tactics used against Kiki were the self-same methods that the Mexicans learned from their Gringo counterparts. In the close of season one, operation Leyenda was instituted to seek answers. We meet Walter Breslin (Scoot McNair), one of the DEA avengers. McNair also acts as the narrator for the series.

Season 2 (2020)

Even before the massive loss in their cannabis backyard, Felix made moves to future proof his ventures. He singles out cocaine trafficking as the path to his billions. He sets up a meeting with the Cali cartel, wishing to be their main courier to the US. In the process, he was taken to Escobar. The drug lord demands that he allot half of every load to them. In order to do this, he needs the help of Juan Guerra, the Gulf cartel leader specialising in opium. They need his alliance to ensure safe passage of his cargo. However, Guerra violates their handshake agreement and does his own deal with the Cali cartel. As a result, Felix meets up the latter and agrees to teleport seventy tons of the white stuff.

While the DEA tortures one of Kiki’s kidnappers, Verdin, he gives them a name, Arce. The latter owns the house where Camarena was questioned. Though Arce initially cooperates, he does a one-eighty and disowns his earlier testimony. This lands the fledgling agency back to square one. Meanwhile, Rafa and Don Neto rot in jail. When Felix visits the latter, he realises that hard time has thoroughly disillusioned Neto. His former partner wants only payback – against Felix and friends. Anyhow, Felix attempts to get the 1988 Presidential candidate in his pocket. However, he learns that the frontrunner is close with Guerra and that his money cannot buy their support. He therefore resolves to game the election, first via doctoring the computerised tallies, then by tampering with the ballots. He went as far as instructing his troops to burn the ballot boxes. He gets his way, and his puppet is elected to power. His seventy tons clear the border, as the DEA’s men are outgunned once more. Dead bodies of agents are left in the ‘reign of greed’.

Breslin takes the fall, as he led the ill-fated ambush against the Mexicans. He is assigned a desk job in the Southern US. Walt is not a stranger to tragedy: three years earlier, his brother took his own life. The latter had long-standing issues. He does not trust Calderoni, even with the latter’s overzealousness to find justice. His trepidation is well-placed. Regardless, we take in the transformation of Gallardo as a doting family man to the biggest drug kingpin in the history of Mexico. With his trademark long-sleeves and facial hair, Diego looks the part. There are car chases, hand-to-hand combat, and swordfights. The betrayals and under-the-table deals add colour. While most of the plot is based on real events, they had room for such characters as Breslin and Isabella Baustista. The pair may be fictional, but they had their moments. Moreover, the return of prior cast members – the Cali cartel and Escobar – breathed new life into the series. The show was renewed for a third season. However, without Pena and with Luna not returning, they will be wanting in star power.

Rating: 4.4/5

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