Phil McNulty & Celebrations

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I’m sure you all know that this has been a very up and down season for Arsenal, especially since we’ve been number 1 in the Premier League for quite some length, only for it all to topple as we now remain at 5th.  Now, I won’t add to what others have mentioned already, but let me just say that it hurts as a fan. 

Yesterday, Arsenal gave us a dogged, grind-it-out, ugly performance to reach the FA Cup finals after the shot-stopping Lukasz Fabianski provided the foothold we needed to beat a Wigan squad who, despite playing for the Championship, remain undefeated in their last 12 games in this tournament.  It was for that reason that we celebrated.  It was for that reason that fans all across Arsenal were swept in jubilation…we have emerged with a chance to reclaim the FA Cup.

Then some hack at the BBC wrote this a day later.

Phil McNulty’s hatred for Arsenal borders on the pathological, and despite his bias for all things Manchester United, the very fact that he claimed that our celebrations “hinted at not just relief but almost a desperation,” highlight how willing he is to abandon the joy of sport at the expense of not only insulting Arsenal Football Club, but the very nature of the FA Cup. 

Furthermore, his insinuation that Wigan are a “very competent, but hardly [a] remarkable, Championship team” is insulting given that they not only won the trophy last season, but did so while beating Manchester City (last season and this season).  My Arsenal bias holds on to the notion that we were the better (yet nervy) side yesterday, but take nothing away from the Latics; they played their socks off (aside from some strange calls from that jerk they call a ref).

Well, we’ve fallen off a bit in the Prem, but a win at Wembley will hopefully put things right for us.  With hacks like Phil at the helm of football writing on the Beeb, it’s time to throw off all the divisiveness amongst our support and rally behind the team.  Let’s give Arsenal all we got, and let’s get ourselves a trophy!!!!

Naika Reviews LUTHER (Seasons 1-3)

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Let me be clear and say to all of you that I don’t do much television.  Even if I did, I’d probably find myself recapping shows long after their original run, and unfortunately, Neil Cross’ Luther is one of them.  I’ve long heard of the acting talents of Idris Elba on The Wire, along with his much professed love of all things Arsenal, but after watching all three seasons recently, I find it regrettable that I didn’t see his work sooner.  Luther is a brooding whirlpool of urban mayhem and Idris Elba’s portrayal of him is at the center of it all, serving as both anchor and sail.

The plights of Luther throughout the show would not be complete without a host of other characters who serve to question his moral limits while offering him sincere support.  Despite his separation from his wife Zoe, Luther’s main female counterpart is the cunning and scene-stealing Alice Morgan (portrayed by the talented Ruth Wilson).  After murdering her parents in the very first episode of season 1, Alice develops an uncanny attraction to our detective after he deduces her involvement in the matter without any solid evidence.  Luther initially views this relationship as an annoyance as he juggles between his marital problems and his duties, but as the second and third seasons unravel, we slowly find that the both of them begin to confide in one another in such a way that thoughts of something more are left lingering for us in the series’ end.

In addition, a detective series wouldn’t be complete without good old precinct regulars, namely his clear-eyed protege Detective Sergeant Justin Ripley (Warren Brown).  The straight arrow of the bunch, Justin acts as both Luther’s trusted partner and moral compass when many of the show’s antagonists test his conscience.  This especially comes to a boil at the end of season 1 when another one of Luther’s fellow inspectors commits a very desperate crime and pins all the blame on him.  However, we wouldn’t have a gripping show if the challenges to Luther’s conscience didn’t have its consequences, and what you’ll find in season 3 is a new juggling act for our protagonist as he juggles a new threat in the form some very vindictive co-workers that goes a stretch beyond your normal internal affair shenanigans.

luther-1-_FULL-bbc-america-one1If it sounds like I’m being vague here, then believe me when I tell you that it is on purpose.  Don’t expect the brilliance of Sherlock or the class of Poirot here since Luther’s hook is all about how the search to nab wicked men make virtuous men both obsessed and miserable.  In addition to that, the consequences aren’t the typical mouth-offs like “Yeah, she took the kids and moved to her Mom’s” kind, it’s the violent, yelling punch a fucking hole in my wife’s door kind…NON-STOP.  Now, if you have a hard time believing what I am writing, then you’ll have no problems seeing it since we have one fine actor doing his best to paint a very dark portrait for us.

In the end, Idris Elba’s award-winning portrayal of Luther, from the weary eyes to the hunched shoulders, along with his dogged gait and razor-edged wit, is a sight to behold.  In respect to the series as a whole, we not only witness how one detective’s obsessions lead him to more compromising consequences, but it challenges the old notions of why we seek light at the end of ANY tunnel in the first place.  For a man like Luther, light at the end of the tunnel obscures the true purpose of emerging from it altogether, and to do so, one must be willing to trudge deeply into the darkness.

Hello 2014!

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It’s a bit late from me y’all, and no, I didn’t have the time to make a 2013 event round-up like in the previous year, but that might go to show you how crazy last year was.  From the Boston bombings, the death of Nelson Mandela, the World Cup draw and the release of the PS4, lots of stuff has happened.  There’ll be more movie reviews coming on here soon, and I’ll have some more Arsenal updates as well as we continue to push for the title (cross your fingers).  Otherwise, hope you all had a great Holiday, so stay warm and let’s welcome 2014!

Happy Holidays!!

Cowboy_Bebop_Group_ChristmasSince it IS the season, it’s my pleasure to wish the lot of you a Happy Holiday, assuming you pass by here of course.  The end of the year is nigh, so you’ll definitely be hearing one of my self important Year-End Round-ups, along with a possible AMV as well on the YouTube channel.  Lots of things have happened in the world the last time I blogged, and there’s no better way to get those events out of the chest than to procrastinate like a drunken sloth and hurriedly write a half-assed blogpost before New Year’s Eve.  Furthermore, since the GF is watching Cowboy Bebop for the first time this month, a Cowboy Bebop-ish holiday image is in order.  Happy Holidays folks!!!

Weekend Roundup (11/23/2013 to 11/24/2013)

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Quiet weekends are usually good weekends and in this case, it was damn good!  Saturday morning started out well with a good win from Arsenal at home against in-form Southampton and my, was it a cracker!  The Saints played very well in the first half, but some luck from Artur Boruc’s horrible work in front of goal saw Arsenal’s Giroud steal the ball from him to score on the spot (muhaha!).  Despite what the BBC’s written, luck wasn’t the only thing that helped us will that day.  With solid defending, great build-up play and a penalty for us due to Per getting his jersey yanked, we convincingly closed out the kind of game that we would usually falter with years ago.  How’s that for a good start to the weekend?

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And with the GF still recovering from a neck knack, a great deal of the weekend had us watching TV, namely some episodes of her favorite shows, including Supernatural (because all chicks like Dean Winchester).  We also decided to jam on some old Hong Kong action with Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China films starring Jet Li as the titular Chinese folk hero Huang Fei-Hong.  Saturday night was devoted to the first film, while Sunday had us jamming on the second.  Despite the films’ relative age, they still pack the same punch that they had all those years ago.

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Interspersed in between these moments was me playing some Tetris Attack, namely the Puzzle mode, which I’ve never dabbled in until now.  Simple puzzles become brainteasers requiring a specific number of moves which not only test your understanding of the game, but can truly frustrate you if you let them.  Luckilly, the GF was there to sort many of them out, but believe me when I tell that some of them had us pissed for moments on end.  I was even playing Konami’s Batman Returns on Saturday as well, but it didn’t keep me on my toes as much as Tetris Attack did (but I will say that Catwoman is a BITCH!).

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And lastly, we paid a nice visit to Tampa’s Thai Temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram, by Palm River road, with some of the GFs coworkers tagging along.  It was a windy day, but things were still cooking as we had ourselves a big pile of Thai food and desserts.  With bowls of beef noodle soup, curries with rice, and desserts ranging from cassava cakes to Sticky Rice with coconut milk and mangoes, we all knew we were in Heaven.  Too bad there weren’t any curry puffs for me to chew on.  Overall, it was a great weekend leading up to the big one we’ll all get on Turkey Day.  Have a great week folks!

Huang Fei Hong Spicy Peanuts are the SHIT!!!

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It’s probably no coincidence that this awesome snack is named after the famed martial artist from Foshan because Huang Fei Hong’s irresistable combinantion of crunchy, jumbo peanuts (from Shandong province mind you), chillis and peppercorns pack the right amount of kick that will keep you begging for more.  It’s a relatively simple snack that’s a farcry from the stuff we usually gobble here in the States, but maybe that’s what makes it so great to eat.  How can peanuts simply taste so good?

The peanuts themselves are full of crunch and aren’t those teeny tiny Planters nuts we usually find ourselves downing during beer night.  However, the kick comes straight from our infamous little friends from Sichuan: huajiao peppercorns.  The signature ‘numbing’ spice that trickles across your tongue may initially have you reaching out for the nearest glass of water, but upon taking the heat in stride, you’ll find yourself reaching out for more. 

Internet foodie blogs have already buzzed about this hot treat, and for good reason too.  It’s a simple snack that features a neat variation to the usual fare we consume, but with neat packaging and ample supplies in many an asian grocery store equals a damn fine product.  There’s even a knock off version of this product named after Huang Fei Hong’s love interest in Tsui Hark’s classic “Once Upon a Time in China” film series too.  A favorite of this blogger’s snack repetoire, Huang Fei Hong Spicy Peanuts is da SHIT, so get ‘em today!

Older but Stronger, We Call It DOGSHIT: Naika Reviews “Tiny Times 1.0″

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(From L to R) Hayden Kuo, Yang Mi, Amber Kuo and Xie Yilin as high school students in the insufferable pile of dogshit known as Tiny Times 1.0.

I’ve been trying very hard to find a way to start this write-up with something clever, but so far, it hasn’t worked.  Maybe it’s because I’m a shitty blogger who thinks he can write well, but in truth, he can’t.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t read enough Leonard Maltin to truly consider myself to be a film critic, or that I don’t have enough of a mental toolset to be one.  However, it might be this way because the movie I am about to review has done absolutely nothing to inspire my mind in any fashion to warrant it a decent article.  For those of you who do read my reviews from this godforsaken blog, it’s obvious that I have a strong love for Asian film, especially if it’s the gems we find from the Chinese-speaking world, but lo and behold, there is something out there that we can simply classify as an abomination.  This is not The Tuxedo, nor is it anything like Wudang.  Hell, it isn’t even a Wong Jing movie, and Wong Jing usually SUCKS!  BIG TIME!  I’m sure that if I asked Wong Jing to take a big ol’ shit on a turtle shell, all the corn that we’d pick out from it would be much more worthwhile that whatever you’d pick out from this film.  Therefore, if you ever have the inclination to watch Guo Jingming’s Tiny Times 1.0, then be warned, because for all I know, it’s a big, goddamned waste of MY time.

Tiny Times 1.0 is based on the popular young adult book series written by the ever polarizing Guo Jingming, a diminutive and expensively-dressed author who’s not only one of the richest young writers in the Mainland, but has the fucking temerity to direct his own fucking book into movie format, and let me tell you, this man is already raking in the big bucks.  Despite widespread public polarization about its underlying themes (because you know, Chinese folk ain’t STUPID), Tiny Times 1.0 was a Chinese box office hit thanks in no small part to the author’s rabid book-toting fanbase (one that has overlooked his past incidences of plagirism to boot).  Therefore, if the audience is there, why not bank on even more money with a goddamned movie, right?  And what better person is there to direct the movie than the brains behind the books right?  Good decision right?

Wrong goddammit.  Wrong, wrong, WRONG, but we’ll get to that later.

Like the U.S., China is also experiencing the decline of popular culture / civilization due in part to the buying power of all of these young assholes who were born in the 90s who have no idea what class, humility and good taste are, but are ready to give anything to get everything thanks to them being brought up in spoiled homes while tasting instant gratification from the internet.  And despite whether they’re rich kids looking for anything that’s branded with Gucci-Armani-Aldo, or American Libertarian Otaku who moan about everything from the size of Moe eyes to why poor folk don’t deserve welfare, the trend is the same across the page:  I want it now, I say what I want now, and I don’t give a fuck about the consequences.  Unfortunately for these chumps, what you want says a lot about who you are, and for all of you who’ve lovingly watched Tiny Times 1.0 like neutered buffaloes with venerial disease, you’re all morons.  That’s not to say that 90s kids around the world are all like that.  Hell, that’s far from it, but these chumps have put their money where their mouth is, and unfortunately, what we hear is what he learn from Guo Jingming.

tinytimes1608eBefore I go out of hand again, let’s talk about the movie itself.  By and large, the film is a simple coming of age story between four lady-friends who make the transition from high school to college, struggling to overcome personal obstacles to achieve their dreams while staying together as the best of friends.  It’s a by the numbers plot line, but like all bad films, the devil is in the details, and the context surrounding the film’s plot, or lack thereof, is baffling.  Lin Xiao, portrayed by that insufferable bitch named Yang Mi (who was in Wudang, FUCK!), is our heroine and narrator who is accompanied by her three best friends to attend university in a glamorous Shanghai.  Her posse include the artsy Nan Xiang (Hayden Kuo), rich girl Gu Li (Amber Kuo) and the sporty-but-oh-so-stupid Tang Wanru (Xie Yilin).  While Gu Li sticks to her lush apartment and can afford the luxury of being driven to school, her buddies have to settle for their dorm room, a spacious and fanciful behemoth that is definitely UNREAL by any University standard, let alone China’s (8 roommates anyone?).  From here on out, we enter forbidden territory.

Now, our heroines have their ‘hurdles’, just like in any other film.  For starters, Lin Xiao gets into Devil Wears Prada mode when she beats out some fierce competition to work in M.E. magazine, a fashion zine headed by the handsome-yet-eccentric Gong Ming.  Gu Li is in the running to be a successful woman since she’s “apparently” running her own business (it’s not told what it is, but she’s wearing nice clothes and is super bossy and smart, so you figure right?), but her high school sweetheart’s mom ain’t none too pleased with that and wants her to figuratively piss off.  Nan Xiang is the not so rich, but ethereal beauty of the bunch who paints all day and looks like she dreams of nothing but beauty and angel feathers in the air.  Her only big trial aside from designing clothes for a fashion show later in the film involves some asshole she’s dating, one which Gu Li hates to high hell but is only known to us through yelling, tears and no actual exposition whatsoever.  Yeah, you’re gonna see lots of these sudden knee-jerk moments that add no bearing to the overall structure of the film.  And lastly, Wanru is our sporty, not-so-attractive heroine whose advances towards a tennis hunk always seems to fall short (and straight into plot hole hell).  Portrayed as ugly, unfashionable and creepy, it’s as if Wanru was intentionally designed to be an awful character in order to ramp up the charm of her other three friends.

Now that we’ve established the overall structure of what we would expect from Tiny Times 1.0, it’s time we talk about why this film is so divisive.  Though it’s nothing like what we’ve seen from the U.S. House of Representatives in the last few months, Tiny Times 1.0 divides opinion in China due to the fact that it uses the theme of female friendship as a frame to hold up a broad and superficial view of success through excess.  To be fair, the U.S. has always been excellent in imposing its superficial worldview throughout the rest of the world thanks to the TV shows we crank out (Gossip Girl and the O.C. for starters) and the movies we produce.  With this in mind, we can easily see that Guo Jingming’s books are a response to that as they illustrate a chic and fashionable lifestyle to all those who are ‘brave enough’ to endure the hardships of life to come out on top.  In Tiny Times 1.0, we get the ‘added benefit’ of seeing that lifestyle in the big screen for us as Lin Xiao traverses through all the ‘trials and tribulations’ of being part of M.E. magazine’s fashionable status quo, where brand names and empty faces are tossed around with reckless abandon.  A special emphasis is also placed on how all of this excess is filmed, where feathers and confetti always rain down during beautiful moments under the backdrop of a shimmering Shanghai, giving off that hazy air of “Yes, my dreams can come true here, once I get that job and roll into my bed of Benjamins.”

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No one illustrates this idea more that the character of Gu Li.  A smart and aggressive girl primed for big business and sporting the latest fashions, Gu Li is all about material excess.  In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Gu Li has an argument with her high school sweetheart where both of them are on the brink of a break-up.  As her boyfriend speaks empty, possibly naive platitudes about how he’d give up his wealth for her (cuz he a rich bastard), she bites back by bleating out the most memorable line of the film, saying “Love without materialism is just a pile of sand.”  Fast forward to New Year’s eve (or Christmas, I don’t know), and after some weird plot contrivances set our four heroines up for some love let-down, they all hit it to Gu Li’s luxury apartment to party, cry, let off some steam, try on clothes in her maze of a fashion closet and drink champagne like BFFs on the patio in a shimmering Shanghai with snow and glitter falling slowly from the sky.  I guess by this point in the film, Gu Li is right.  Who’d want sand to fall from the sky when you’re livin’ large like this with your girlfriends, right?

However, let’s not hit out on Gu Li alone.  The whole world that surrounds are heroines in Tiny Times is excessively materialistic all on its own.  Gong Ming, our head guy at M.E. magazine, sports some ridiculously expensive clothes as he tries to be the next Keanu Reeves.  Lin Xiao, despite calling herself an “ordinary girl in Shanghai,” aspires to everything beyond that.  Artsy Nan Xiang, despite being labeled as the demure-yet-poor beauty is found later in the film designing clothes for Lin Xiao’s fashion show and Wanru is…well, herself, hoping to be as stylish as her gal-pals but falling flat as her BFFs proceed to laugh at her.  It’s as if Guo Jingming watched too much Gossip Girl and smashed a bunch of loosely related episodes into a film that shows nothing but glamor montages.  Everyone is guilty of seeking the good life through material excess in Tiny Times, and although common belief tells us that doing so can strain close friendships in the long run, the BFF power coming out of Lin Xiao’s gang is immune to it.  Frankly, that’s bullshit.

However, of all the things Tiny Times 1.0 gets wrong the most is how it fares as an actual film in relation to its structure and plot.  Although Lin Xiao is our would be narrator, none of what she says ties any of the film’s loosely bound acts together, and whatever she does say is flowery bullshit spoken in Yang Mi’s stupid, cutesy voice that’s well known in pop culture to make most Chinese cringe (in which point the film even makes fun of that, but who gives a shit?).  There’s also no flow or transition from one act to another, making the entire film a disjointed mess that highlights Guo Jingming’s intention to cram as much as he can into one whole film.  In addition to all this cramming, many of these events or acts lack any sort of exposition or further exploration which makes the overall plot of the film a bit confusing unless you’ve read the books. 

In addition to structural problems, the film itself offers no genuine strife for any of our heroines to endure for the sake of character development.  One situation in particular occurs when Lin Xiao’s upcoming University fashion show for M.E. magazine goes up in flames thanks to some snow storm and the venue is completely trashed.  She’s in tears obviously, but instead of rallying herself together to make something out of nothing or to reflect on her hubris by watching her whole world go up in flames, Gong Ming just waltzes on by and let’s her know that he’s got a Plan B already in place with another venue ready to roll.  Problem solved?  Fuck yeah!  Her boss saves the day!  You think this is a girl power film?  FUCK NO!  If anything, the film has some vaguely sexist undertones that highlight how women should be nothing more than jeweled queens who needn’t get ugly for anything.  Let the men fight for them and let the men fight amongst themselves for them.  I thought this was supposed to be a movie folks, not a soap opera.

tiny times goddamnTiny Times 1.0′s failings as a film all stem from one element that I vaguely mentioned in the beginning of the review, and that element is Guo Jingming.  Like George Lucas’ efforts in the first Star Wars trilogy, George actually had individuals who challenged his vision and helped him build some sort of coherence to all the ideas he had written into what would become a sci-fi classic.  Furthermore, when he had a bad idea, and I mean a screwball straight-to-the-shitter BAD idea, I’m sure he was surrounded by folks who told him “NO GODDAMMIT, you’ll ruin the movie!”  However, the unparalleled success he experienced had fattened his head when it came time to make his second Star Wars trilogy, and therefore, as we ALL can attest, what we witnessed there was utter crap.  Guo Jingming has unfortunately followed suit here.  Instead of challenging his own source material and providing his audience with a richer experience of his books on the big screen, Guo has decided to flagellate himself with his bright lights, designer brands and music video style camerawork with no one in the production crew daring enough to question his ideas, merits, taste and logic as a filmmaker.  On the flipside however, who would?

Indeed, Tiny Times 1.0 deserved the heated and polarized debate that swiftly overtook China’s netizens over the summer, where critics vehemently panned its underlying themes while giving other sensible Chinese folks more reasons to face-palm themselves.  Aside from its general failings as a film, Tiny Times 1.0 is a shallow exercise in material excess.  Now, a review like this can easily fall into a critique of Chinese youth culture, but rest assured that this is not the case since these observations aren’t restricted to China alone.  The U.S. and Europe have always prided themselves as vain trendsetters for the rest of the world, and in all honesty, there’s no shame in a Chinese film to actually indulge itself in that regard, thanks in no small part to China’s rise as an economic powerhouse.  However, most Chinese today would probably tell you that there are far better ways to portray that in comparison to what Guo Jingming has done.  Love without materialism is just a pile of sand in his case, but for Tiny Times 1.0, a shallow film without any structure is, to put it mildly, a pile of dogshit.