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.

Posted in fashion, reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Books, culture and politics, reviews, Sport | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in culture and politics, Travel | Leave a comment

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

Posted in reviews, Travel, TV | Leave a comment

Tenet (2020) reviewed

My last movie review has been a while ago. Since dissecting Parasite (2019), I have streamed many films and have borrowed my share of DVDs. Earlier today, I’ve finished watching Tenet. The latter is Christopher Nolan’s latest entry and his first since the highly successful Dunkirk (2017). Inception (2009) and Interstellar (2014) remain the only Nolan productions I’ve sighted at the cinemas. This effort has shades of both works, combining elements of time travel and manipulation in a visually stunning backdrop. Tenet was one of the most anticipated movies of last year and stars John David Washington as the Protagonist.

One word

Armed with only one word, tenet, the protagonist seeks to save the whole world from the claws of an ogre. At the onset, he survives a massacre in an Ukranian centre. He is then recruited by a mysterious organisation called Tenet. He is made aware of inverted entropy, where bullets move back in time. They are manufactured in the future and are remains of a future war. The bullets lead him to Mumbai and Priya Singh, a local arms dealer. Here, he meets Neil (Robert Pattinson), who becomes an ally in his mission. Together, they bungee jump in order to share a tete-a-tete with Singh. They subsume that Priya is an enlistee of Tenet, and that she obtained them from Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), the Russian oligarch.

Willowy Kat

This leads to an encounter with Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), the Russian’s estranged better half. Slender and over six feet tall, Debicki towers over both Branagh and Washington. The meetup has to do with a forged drawing, which Sator used as leverage in their relationship. The Protagonist and Neil move on a freeport at Oslo to salvage the caricature. Here they uncover the so-called ‘turnstile’ and outsmart two masked figures who seemed to have developed from said turnstile. Priya explains to them that the turnstile is a sort of TARDIS and that the masked riders were similar feathers going the other way.

On Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Kat makes the introduction between the Protagonist and Andrei. They learn that the sketch is whole. While Sator is about to murder the Protagonist, the latter saves his life after Kat tries to submerge him. The two opposites agree to work together, attempting to locate a case that purportedly has Plutonium-241. In Tallinn, Estonia, the Protagonist and Neil mount a surprise attack on a convoy, stealing the case, which indeed carries the lost artefact in Kiev. However, they are themselves ambushed by a backpedalling Sator, who holds Kat hostage. The Protagonist hands over an empty case and leaves, rescuing Kat. However, he is soon caught and brought to the warehouse, which has a turnstile.

Andrei Sator

This is when things get thick. There are a few do-si-dos, an inverted Sator and his non-inverted counterpart. With each edition, the viewer would cringe at Andrei’s sleaziness. He is not only an abusive husband; nothing satisfies him. As a youngster in the Soviet Union, he forged his path by taking a punt when no one else dared. ‘One man’s probability of death is another’s possibility of life,’ he uttered. He even quotes some Whitman to get his point across: ‘We live in a twilight world.’

We learn from Priya that Sator is trying to construct an algorithm that would be catastrophic to the planet. Thus, what ensues is a race against time to stop the madman. Kat reveals that her husband has pancreatic cancer, and he wants the world to end on his terms. The protagonist infers that Sator wishes to travel back to an earlier trip to Vietnam, where he will meet his Maker during the last time that he was happy. Interestingly, both Pattinson and Branagh have appeared in the Harry Potter film series. Meanwhile, the group traces the algorithm back to Sator’s native Northern Siberia. An elite squad is deployed to undo the mess.

The critics have spoken

In this film, we tackle such alien terms as ‘hypocrater’ and ‘temporal pincer’. The apex of the movie indeed utilises the latter phrase. The flick offers Nolan fans just what they love, with fast-paced action, time-space manipulation, and mystery at every turn. The non-linear plot was a conundrum to be unlocked. One would have to be sharp through to the end to grasp the true measure of this project. At 144 minutes, Tenet is epic in scope but is in line with previous Nolan running times. I believe that this one mimics Inception more than Interstellar, which has greater existentialist undertones. Regardless, you can count on all of Nolan’s films to be visually stunning. The production also has a postmodern feel, with self-referentiality, the nonlinear timeline, and the lead’s designation as ‘the Protagonist’. The critics were mostly positive toward this movie, but they didn’t convince everyone. While others compared it to James Bond, some have called it out for lacking humour. A few pundits have singled out Branagh’s Russian accent, which they deem ‘silly’. The reviews have ranged from two stars to three and a half (out of four).   

Wanderlust

This is the first tentpole film to open since the COVID restrictions in the US. Tenet disappointed, failing to recoup its lavish $200 million budget. However, Pattinson’s sidekick effort impressed me. Washington was likewise convincing in the driver’s seat. The filming locations were dazzling, as it was shot in seven various countries. Among them were Italy, the US, the UK, Estonia, and India. Films are rarely shot in Tallinn, so this was a nice change of pace. The scenes also included a five-day shoot in Mumbai. While Thailand was not featured, the Amalfi Coast was picturesque. No expense was spared in the making of this production. This is the same helmer who gave us The Batman trilogy. I learned that it took Nolan five years to write the screenplay. This is an artist at work.

Rating: 3.7/5

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Posted in movies, reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

Bondi Junction, NSW: pride of Sydney’s east

This past week, we visited Bondi Junction. The suburb is a train ride away from the city centre. The journey takes about fifteen minutes. The transport interchange is the gateway to iconic Bondi Beach, which is a further bus ride. Over the years, I’ve visited Bondi a bit. My friends and I watched movies here. We window-shopped and bought clothes. We sampled cuisines at the food court. Westfield (WF) Bondi is one of the larger malls in Sydney metro, occupying parts of two blocks. The centre is a high-end destination. Apart from the WF, the suburb also boasts a second mall: Eastgate Bondi Junction. Not to be outdone, the smaller mall has a full-service Coles, an ALDI, a Kmart, and The Reject Shop. A bevy of smaller shops and eateries line the streets of Bondi. Oxford Street, which runs through the suburb, is the main thoroughfare. The area is likewise home to the Sydney Roosters. The Chooks are a marquee team in the NRL (National Rugby League).

Steeped in history

Initially, WF Bondi had two food courts:  a posh one on level 5 and a more budget-friendly version, the so-called terrace food court. The latter has been turned into an H&M, which opened in August 2016. The mall has 331 retailers and eight anchor tenants. The centre has both Myer and David Jones (DJ), annexed in 2004. Myer was originally Grace Bros. and opened in 1934. Meanwhile, DJ opened in 1976 and was part of the erstwhile Bondi Junction Plaza.

On our trip this past week, I bought two items from DJ: a multi-coloured LS tee and a cotton linen t-shirt. The latter represents the first linen item in my wardrobe. I also bought a CD and a Sean Penn DVD from one of the independent stores outside. Over the years, I’ve gotten a European sweater and a cream shirt from H&M. As mentioned before, I purchased some branded olive chino shorts and a Superdry tee. Another time, I recall browsing with my pal at Zara. I bought a colour block woollen jumper from Country Road. We’ve also snapped up some bargains at Myer.

Bits and bobs

The mall also boasts both Coles and Woolworths. The two are the largest supermarket chains in the country. Both brands were added as part of a massive expansion from 2003-2004. Apart from the pair, the Myer was redeveloped. Other new additions included: Target, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Rebel Sport, Greater Union (since rebranded as Event Cinemas) and 458 other retailers. In September 2012, Spanish giant Zara joined in. They utilised the area that Borders vacated. September of last year, Japanese multinational, Uniqlo, unveiled their 24th Aussie wonderland in the mall.

One-stop shop

WF Bondi Junction has a surface area of 131,259 square metres. The centre was originally in the area occupied by three malls, with the oldest being Grace Brothers (1934). There is no doubt that Bondi is the foremost shopping destination in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Some of the films we’ve seen here include Walter Mitty, Parasite, Last Jedi, Black Panther, and Deadpool 2. The last three we watched in Gold Class (GC), which is their premium cinematic experience. My friend was mighty impressed with their GC after his initial visit. There is a wide variety at the WF and there’s something for everyone. Fast fashion has H&M and Cotton On. There are midsized retailers like Just Jeans, Hype DC and Country Road. They also house top-end names like Oroton, Saba, Rodd and Gunn, and Windsor Smith.

The WF has two bookstores for bibliophiles. The centre also has two news agents. There are also a few restaurants on the upper level, including a sushi train and Bondi Pizza. WF Bondi also has a few bakeries, seafood, and fruit shops. There are two optical stores and even a dentist. There are three bank branches: Westpac, Nab, and St George. Moreover, there are quite a few sports stores for the active human. Nike, Champion, Lululemon, Lorna Jane, Footlocker, and The North Face are just some of them. They likewise have shoe repair and key cutting services. Apart from the mobile providers, they also house phone repair kiosks.  

Second mall

The WF presence alone bolts Bondi to the top of the table. But wait, there’s more. Eastgate Bondi Junction is the second banana. The centre is relatively small at 15,491 square metres. The train station is a short walk away. Eastgate opened shop in 1983 underneath the Eastgate apartments. The mall included a Kmart, Coles, and a Harris Farm below the Kmart. It was built after the three centres which merged into the WF. Eastgate underwent a revamp in March of 2013, which saw the renovation of the mezzanine level. The new floor added ALDI among others. The Reject Shop, Just Cuts, etc. were likewise refurbished.

In 2018, Harris Farms relocated from the lower basement to the ground floor. In July 2019, Eastgate experienced a makeover that included a new façade. The works were completed come November of that year. The new and improved Coles has been regarded as the ‘poshest’ in the country. Last year, I remember going to Specsavers to get some sunnies. They are on the mezzanine level. Afterwards, we saw Parasite at the WF cinemas. The film would go on to win four Oscars, including Best Picture. This gave the director the rare distinction of bagging four statuettes in one night. For more on this movie, peek my post ‘Parasite (2019) reviewed’.

An embarrassment of options

Bondi has come a long way from the Grace Bros. of 1934. The first food court wouldn’t arrive until the 70s, and the second mall would only materialise in 1970. The train stop wouldn’t make it to Bondi until 1979. As late as ’94, WF didn’t even own a stake in the area, with AMP being the main player until then. The Westfield as it stands today wasn’t realised until 2004. Over the years, there have been a few upgrades, including well-known newcomers. There were likewise some departures, whether of a small, medium or larger scope. For instance, they used to have a Jeanswest. Topshop entered the dragon in March of 2016 but would wave goodbye only three years later.

In light of the pandemic, a few retailers went kaput. In spite of these lemons, this Westfield is doing far better than its Eastgardens counterpart. This could be attributed to the accessibility of the centre as well as all the other options beyond WF. The continued improvement of Eastgate doesn’t hurt, either. Lest I forget, the pedestrian mall through Oxford Street features all sorts of cuisines and finds for the curious cat. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something, give Bondi a try. The area ticks a lot of boxes, as outlined prior. As a traveller passing through, you’d be spoiled for choice. You just have to know where to look.

Posted in reviews, Sport, Travel | 2 Comments

Fincher-nomics: My top 5 films

David Fincher is one of the biggest helmers in Tinseltown (LA). In a career spanning four decades, he has been nominated for thirty Academy Awards, including twice for Best Director. Fincher is noted for his psychological thrillers, plot twists, and sumptuous visuals. I’ve seen most of his work, including three at the cinema. The trio are Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), and Gone Girl (2014). Many of Fincher’s movies are adaptations: Alien 3 (1992), Benjamin Button (2008), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Zodiac (2007), to name a few.

In spite of his success, not all of his features have been box office hits. For instance, critics praised The Game, yet the film had disappointing audience returns. Meanwhile, Zodiac is a well-regarded title. The movie has been praised for being authentic. However, it barely broke even on its eighty-five million budget. In all, Fincher has directed eleven feature films, from 1992 onwards. I’ve had the pleasure of watching eight of them. Here are my best picks for the Fincher fan.

  1. The Social Network (2010). This is Fincher’s highest-rated production, and with good reason. The film is based on the book Accidental Billionaires, but I bet the adaptation is much better than the original. The flick tells the story of the early days of Facebook. Network is also notable for its unflattering portrayal of the FB founder. We get to know more about Sean Parker, the Napster founder who took an interest in FB. We eyeball the fractured dynamic between Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. We witness the infighting among the FB pioneers. We even feel the wrath of the Winklevoss twins, who believed that they were conned. There is even the storyline of Rebecca Albright (Rooney Mara). Her actions resulted in the making of FB.

The movie benefits from a talented cast, giving a dose of realism to the characters. Jesse Eisenberg was perfect for Zuckerberg. Andrew Garfield was relatable as Saverin. Rashida Jones gave a memorable turn as a clerk. Justin Timberlake generated Oscar buzz as Parker. The film was widely considered as the best of 2010 and was a fixture on the finest films of that decade. Fincher competed for Best Director at that year’s Oscars and the flick per se had eight Oscar nominations, winning three of them.

Rating: 4.65/5

  • Gone Girl (2014). I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller and last year I also read the book. Another bookworm told me that this was the one instant where the movie and the book both hit the mark. The author Gillian Flynn was herself the screenwriter. This production stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris. Gone girl is a postmodern visual feast that keeps you guessing. The plot involves a missing wife, and all evidence points to her phlegmatic husband. The film represents Fincher’s highest-grossing work. Pike’s performance as Amy Dunne, the damsel in distress was widely acclaimed. She secured several illustrious nominations. Harris’s rendition as Des (Amy’s childhood sweetheart) was likewise impressive. For more on this one, check out ‘My April reads’, where I reviewed the novel.

Rating: 4.4/5

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). This adaptation of the Larsson novel sees Fincher collaborate with Mara again. For your information, this version comes two years after the Swedish one. The Girl refers to Lisbeth, a tattooed punkster who functions like Elliot Alderson. She teams up with Mickael Blomkvist as Stellan Saargard hires them to investigate the disappearance of his niece. In the beginning, Blomkvist is wallowing in his own failures, until he gets the mystery job.

At 158 minutes, this is a fairly long watch. While the book was divided into three parts, this one is sectioned into five to accommodate the monster plot. Fincher is generally faithful to the original. The film was both a critical and a fiscal hit, earning 232 million on a $90 million budget. The flick boasts Fincher’s trademark dark themes and plot twists. While I did not see this on the big screen, I still appreciated the well-developed leads, the genuine ambience, and the killer plot. In this instance, the film version is better than the manuscript.

Rating: 4.3/5

  • Se7en (1995). This is the film that put Fincher on the map. Props also for working from an original screenplay. Brad Pitt plays Detective David Mills, who is investigating a series of gruesome murders. Kevin Spacey is also on board on a supporting role. He teams up with Detective Lieutenant William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). The two would learn that the matador is basing his slayings on the seven deadly sins. Pitt scrambles to protect his family as the killer evades them at every turn. The police, including Mills, are being played like pawns. The ending reveals the murderer’s identity in a shocking twist.

While Gone Girl had a slightly higher total, Se7en had a lesser budget. The film was able to recoup ten times its starting balance. Aside from its box office haul, the film was also a critic’s pick, who loved the film’s unique premise and balance. Pundits concur that at the very least, the flick offers something different. Freeman and Pitt’s portrayals were also praised. This represents Fincher’s first collaboration with Pitt, who would also work with him in Fight Club (1999) and Benjamin Button.  

Rating: 4/5

  • Fight Club (1999). This one is based on Chuck Palahniuk’s name-making novel. The movie sees Pitt and Edward Norton instituting the eponymous fight club. They jet set across America and rant against Ikea. The movie typifies disillusioned Gen Xers while also canvasing machismo in trouble. While the picture was visually stunning, Fight Club was also loaded with violence. I’ve never read the original, but I understand that it is emblematic of the postmodern condition. The movie did poorly on its first theatrical run, only grossing thirty-seven million in North America. There was also a big drop-off in ticket sales for the second week of showing. However, Fight Club has become a cult classic and has earned its place as a paragon of 90s disaffection

Rating: 4/5 

Posted in movies, reviews | Leave a comment

Holiday reads

The Yuletide season saw me eclipsing Educated, Tara Westover’s biography. Recursion (Blake Crouch) followed. Another nonfiction title (Emmanuel Acho) rounds out the trio of reads. In all, I have read six more books than 2019. Most of them were crime novels, seven books apiece for Jo Nesbo and Karin Slaughter. However, I also managed to double my nonfiction haul. I read a classic (Lord of the Flies) and devoured some new releases. From Connelly to Mary Trump, John Grisham to Michael Robotham, I’ve broadened my horizons. Aside from encountering new works, I’ve also topped up my growing vocabulary. This year was also more balanced. During the height of the pandemic, I withdrew more books from my own shelf.

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 1: Protestors rally during a protest against police brutality at City Hall Park, August 1, 2016 in New York City. The protest was organized by Millions March NYC, who are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and end ‘broken windows policing.’ The group is claiming they will stay in City Hall Park until their demands are met. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
  1. Educated (Tara Westover). Praise for the author’s debut effort has reached far and wide. Her writing represents a new voice, and she does so with aplomb. On the surface, this looks like a pastoral biography from a Mormon. Growing up in Buck’s Peak in rural Idaho (US), Tara never went to school. Instead of perking up in class with kids her age, she listened to her dad’s rants about the end of days. Her father never believed in the medical establishment. Instead, he subscribed to Y2K. Her dad’s controlling attitude endangered their lives. Her mother followed her dad’s will.

Tara had five brothers and an older sister. She barely had any friends and assisted her mother, who was an unlicensed midwife. Even as a teenager, she worked in her dad’s junkshop. Though she was home-schooled, she got her GED and entered Brigham Young University (BYU) aged seventeen. She is a multi-talented lass and acted in stage productions though she did not attend school. As a uni student, she refused medical treatment, believing that her mother’s tinctures and oils could cure her. However, she would realise that science and reason are more dependable than her parents’ medieval beliefs.

She was a victim of abuse. She details the hurt she suffered at the hands of Shawn, an older brother. She was in denial since she did not know better. Shawn and her father often berated her even as her clothes were moderate. As a college student, she would return home during the summer and still was roughhoused. She would learn that her other siblings got the same treatment. She finally brought this up to her parents, who should’ve helped them. They made her look like the perp. Aside from BYU she read history at Cambridge and was awarded a doctorate at Harvard. In spite of these accolades, she lost her family. Since she refused to follow their exacting demands, she was for all extents a persona non grata. While she remained in touch with three siblings, the others had cut her out.

This is a chronicle of Tara’s education, from her childhood to her teenage years, from her time at BYU to excellence abroad. Westover is an enchanting storyteller. Every one of the forty chapters hook you in. She canvasses the perils of ignorance and the troubles of being brainwashed. More importantly, her story is ecumenical. All earthlings could identify with her travails. First published in 2018, the book became a number one New York Times bestseller and remains popular to this day.

 Rating: 4.55/5

  • Recursion (Blake Crouch). I believe I’ve perused too much crime, so the time had come to read other genres. Enter Recursion, an award-winning time-travel effort from the writer of Wayward Pines. The book involves a few main players, among them Detective Barry Sutton and scientist Helena Smith. At first, they live in separate storylines. The officer is forced to relive his past, where he will save his daughter Meghan – and his marriage. However, manipulating the space-time continuum would bring catastrophic effects to the world. He realises that he could not save his family without destroying the planet. Meanwhile, Helena works at an offshore facility where she gets disillusioned. The distance – both physical and metaphorical – makes her feel empty. She feels trapped when her boss, Marcus Slade, admits that they need to kill people to meet their objectives. She would then realise that the chair was her invention.

The manuscript is divided into five books, the last two dedicated to Helena and Barry, respectively. As expected, the paths of the two protagonists intersect. They are together for seven lifetimes in different continents, trying to solve the conundrum of our memories. Through various timelines, they hopscotch from San Fran to the Arizona desert, Scotland to Antarctica. When one lifetime is over, they use the machine to get another chance. The problem is that the chair’s world-changing potential attracts other organisations and countries. They cannot hide the machine, no matter what precautions they take. At various points, it falls into the hands of Sutton, John Shaw, and even other nations. They refuse to listen to Helena’s warnings and use it for their vested interests. They have ears only for her expertise.

Being a time-travel book, this is reminiscent of Back to the Future and even 12 Monkeys, with an embarrassment of timelines and the ubiquity of deja vu. Recursion is also like those choose-your-own-adventure reads. The title likewise functions as a cautionary tale, about the dangers of technological progress, and the snag of being human. The book allegorises the dark recesses of human nature, being willing to wage war to control humanity’s fate. In the final pages, Barry proffers ‘Life with a cheat code isn’t life…. That’s what it is to be human – the beauty and the pain – each meaningless without the other’.

Rating: 4.5/5

  • Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man (Emmanuel Acho). This title had been doing well when I borrowed it. The work is an exploration of black culture, unpacking key issues and terms such as white privilege, cultural appropriation, and systemic racism. Acho draws on various sources, including his personal accounts, observations, and thorough research. The result is a polished piece that is informative and insightful. Acho, of course, is the former NFL line-backer who has his own online show. The book title takes its name from his series. Acho admits that he grew up in a well-to-do background and has even been accused of not being ‘black enough’. However, his parents are both Nigerian immigrants and his tenure in college and the pros have made him more aware as a black man in America.

Uncomfortable is divided into three parts. The first part is called ‘You and Me’ and focuses on the individual racism. The second, ‘Us and Them’, is systemic, where policies and institutions are unfavourable to blacks. The third is ‘We’, less obvious but is intrinsic or internalised racism. There are fifteen chapters and they follow the same format. Each instalment opens with some general background, before a subsection on ‘Let’s rewind’, which has some historical context. ‘Let’s Get Uncomfortable’ synthesises this information while ‘Talk It. Walk It’ gives pointers for the reader. In between, Acho makes sure to recommend useful media on the subject.

He begins by problematising the correct terminology. From person of colour (POC) to African American, Acho latches onto black as the most inclusive term. As mentioned, he probes such concepts as white privilege. Acho points out that the whites have had at least a 200-year head start over black Americans. Racism has been institutionalised, as the hegemonic whites control the system. This is apparent in the voting process, in jury selection, and in the much-higher incarceration rate among blacks than whites. Therefore, reverse racism is a myth. Blacks simply do not wield enough power in the US to discriminate against whites on a wholescale level. They have always been a minority. Thus, some people mistake individual racism with reverse racism. Acho also delves into the Black Lives Matter movement, which started in 2013. If worldwide protests would be accounted for, these make this the largest demonstration in human history. This is a loveable, breezy read from a perceptive asset on the ground.

Rating: 4.5/5

BLM protesters
Posted in Books, reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

Daredevil (2015) reviewed

Today we’ll be tackling arguably the finest Marvel series on Netflix. While there are a number of Marvel iterations around, Daredevil’s production, scope, action sequences, and characters set it apart from the field. The programme forms my holiday watch; I’m currently on the third season. I’ve tried streaming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I didn’t like it. The latter reminded me of The Flash, an anthology series that’s basically Groundhog Day. Meanwhile, I liked The Punisher, which was the sequel to Daredevil (DD). However, the latter has a better balance of character investment, dialogue, and action. Daredevil ran for three seasons from 2015-2018. Each of these series were critically acclaimed. DD may have been decomissioned in November 2018, but it sure was fun to watch.

The Punisher (Castle) with Daredevil

Season 1 (2015)

The first season introduces audiences to the main players on the show. Matt Murdock is the star, a blind lawyer who transforms into a vigilante by night. Though visionless, he has heightened senses, which enable him to serve his own brand of justice. Murdock is a devout Catholic. The Church took him in after his father died and he has remained loyal. Hence, he operates under the guiding principle of killing no one, just inflicting damage. Early on, he decides to build a law firm (Nelson and Murdock) with his best bud, Foggy Nelson. They agreed to fight for the good guys and change the world. While initially a dedicated partner, Matt’s night-time crusades gradually wreaks havoc in their relationship.  

We also get introduced to Karen Page, who was one of the firm’s clients. She then goes on board as the duo’s office manager. The latter’s research skills are a difference-maker to the partners. Her presence and diligence make the office more organised. As a fledgling initiative, they have a dearth of clients. Regardless, DD bails Karen out of trouble a few times. Indeed, DD is a bit of a Casanova. He romances Claire (Rosario Dawson), a nurse from Metro-General who is left to stitch him up after his sword fights. He likewise manages to find an ally (Bret Mahoney) in the corrupt police force. Mahoney (Royce Johnson) would reprise his role in other Marvel series.

Wilson Fisk is the biggest albatross in DD’s cleansing of Hell’s Kitchen. The kingpin (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) has been a killer since he was a child. Fisk has remained a faceless man, preferring to do his infamy in the shadows. He is reminiscent of Voldermort, where people are not supposed to say his name. The mastermind has postings in all manners of institutions. He joins ranks with the Yakuza and the Triads to control the area; Fisk likewise manipulates the Russians, who will pay for their lack of foresight.

He intends on monopolising all of Hell’s Kitchen and save his city. The ogre would stop at nothing – not even murder – to fulfil his plans. DD has to battle the other factions before finally facing Wilson. The first season would culminate to a dramatic conclusion and Nelson and Murdock would be front and centre. In the aftermath of raids, not even Fisk’s beloved Vanessa would get a reprieve.

Season 2 (2016)

This collection is more of an origin story. There are flashbacks to Matthew’s youth in the Church. More archive material from college, when he meets Foggy and they become inseparable. We also get to know Elektra, Matt’s former flame, and walk down memory lane. Viewers would remember the latter from the movie version, which Jennifer Garner played. In this edition, Elektra has a British accent, and is equally adept at hand-to-hand combat. However, Elektra c. 2016 is a bit more bloodthirsty. She would later be revealed as a protégé of Stick, who also mentored Matt. Stick is an ageing samurai who aims to stop the Black Sky, a weapon of unprecedented proportions. The scenes cut to happier times between Matt and Elektra, who pushes him to recalibrate his moral compass.

Meanwhile, a vigilante is on the loose. He takes apart the Irish hoodlums and is out for blood. DD and the renegade are on a collision course. The contrast between the latter and DD is an interesting one. Frank Castle has no regard for human life and killing is second nature to him. Meanwhile, DD becomes a different human in the suit, but he draws on his Catholic upbringing and not just his super senses. While their tussles are intense, the two vigilantes actually have a lot in common. They both desire the same thing: to cleanse the city of the trash. When the charges come, Matt agrees to take on Frank as their client.  

In this season, he is once again pitted against a ninja army. They are after something – or someone – that he has. Matt fights an unwinnable war and scrambles to protect those he holds dear. Being with Elektra would cost him his life’s work and alienate him from everyone else. He barely shows up in the Castle trial, thrusting Foggy to take to a premature starring role. Moreover, Fisk returns midseason, intent on taking over the jail. As he tries to reconstruct the pieces of his life, he struggles to hide his mask. Long stretches away from work springs doubt in his colleagues. He is forced to admit that he’s DD to Foggy and his lies endangers their friendship. Due to his nocturnal activities, there may be no Franklin and Nelson to call home.

Matt and Karen

Season 3 (2018)

This chapter opens with a wounded DD. His scars are tended to in the Church and one could not help but feel that his life has come full circle. There are shades of Spidey 2, where he is forced to deal with his own mortality. He seems to have lost control of his abilities and the world thinks that he’s dead. In a parallel storyline, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has come up dry against Fisk. He refuses to hand over information, until Agent Nadeem gets through. Fisk gives him the names of Albanian cons and graduates from prison to house arrest. The former seems to hold all the cards. Agent Nadeem is hell-bent on being promoted and Fisk plays him like a puppet. Even when confronted with new evidence, Nadeem refuses to see the bigger picture. He has eyes only for that promotion, and to ‘stop, look, and listen’ would jeopardise all his hard work.

DD Season 3 tenders the new character of Bejamin ‘Dex’ Poindexter. He is an elite sniper who saves Fisk’s life. The latter tells him that he has a gift. Dex lost his parents early, before killing his baseball coach. For decades, he’s been seeing therapists. When he’s in trouble, the taped interviews are his happy place. Dex spends his evenings stalking this girl, a link that Fisk sabotages. When he is placed on leave, Dex turns suicidal and subsequently does Fisk’s bidding. The role bears similarities to the ruthless Dexter Morgan. In the comics, he is known as ‘Bullseye’.

This season is particularly trying for DD. He has lost his allies at the hands of his adversaries. His remaining friends think he’s dead. He is still recovering from his injuries and is trying to regain his abilities. Nadeem sure won’t help his cause, and Frank Castle has disappeared into the night. He has to fight to clear his name. He ends up seeking answers from the Albanians in prison, but Fisk is too fast.  At the same time, someone is framing him, and the Bureau wants him. His nemesis looms large. Every day that passes is another win for the madman.

Final word

The series has been hailed as one of the best comic book adaptations ever. The show offers some excellent storytelling and awesome characters. The programme also has a talented cast to pull that off. DD is unpretentious, focusing on its strengths. DD also has some epic action scenes and the perfect villain in Wilson Fisk. The latter may not be very fluid in his killings but he’s certainly detestable. The show, while only set in New York, functions as a microcosm. With the people – good and bad – that populate its streets, Hell’s Kitchen could well be your neighbourhood. In sum, DD’s a gem from the Marvel universe.

Rating: 4.9/5

Posted in reviews, TV | Leave a comment