Arsenal vs. Chelsea: EPL (9/24/2016)

Arsenal v Chelsea - Premier League

The last time I saw Arsenal whoop Chelsea was in 2011 during the RVP days.  The last few times, it’s been Diego Costa getting away with being a complete jerk without any penalty.  The last few times, it’s been too many goals against us and not enough against them.  The last few times, it was Mourinho being a dick wad.  Specialist in failure anyone?

So believe me, I was ecstatic when I saw LoLo bully Costa to the ground with the 40 year old caveman whining to the ref.  I was thrilled to see Hector go ballistic to beat Pedro’s counterattack.  And our midfield?  With Ozil, Iwobi and the rest of the gang in full sync, everything was smooth as silk.  Iwobi in particular was getting into great positions, laying out passes, linking up play and penetrating Chel$ki’s defence.  But the cream of the crop?  Those three beautiful goals.  How good was that to see?

20 years ago, Wenger became manager of Arsenal and continues to steady ship despite getting abuse from commentators and asshole Gooners.  The Gooners that do love him will not only enjoy this win, but will love how timely it is.  Let’s hope we can churn out more of these performances in the near future, especially against the smaller teams.  It’s only just one game, but let’s savor it now and look forward to the next one.

Naika Reviews “Five Element Ninjas”

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Thanks to Netflix I’ve been indulging in a slew of Shaw Brothers films, including Chang Cheh’s legendary 1982 film Five Element Ninjas. Full of blood, guts and kung-fu shapes glory, this Venoms mob classic has it all. Many a Shaw Brothers fan can attest that this may be the best from the gang that dominated fight choreography in the famed studio’s heyday, and honest to God, it might be the truth.

The premise of the film is pretty simple, but gets much more complicated (or convoluted) once the ninja baddies are introduced. It all starts when two associations duke it out, mano a mano, to see who’s the best in Wulin.  Our heroes, the laid back Tian Hao and the righteous Zhi Sheng (played by the amazing Lo Meng), belong to the white robed Martial Arts Alliance led by Sifu Yuan Zeng. Over on the other corner, the treacherous Chief Hong commands the rival association. One by one, Yuan Zeng’s pupils beat the tar out of Hong’s men in fair play…that is, until he brings in a Japanese swordsman. The ronin is the best out of Hong’s bunch and even dupes one of Yuan Zeng’s pupils into Seppuku. Distressed, Zhi Sheng decides to take him on bare-handed in a marvelous fight scene and wins. Tian Hao taunts the ronin into Seppuku and he duly obliges, but not before warning Yuan Zeng about the ninja who will avenge him in due time.

Soon after, Yuan Zeng’s pupils are given a challenge letter from Cheng Yun Mudou (portrayed by Chan Wai Man), leader of the Five Element Ninjas. Realizing that Chief Hong’s challenge was a ruse to bring the Ninjas to China in order to usurp his position, Sifu Yuan urges caution among his students. However, his words prove futile as each group of elements, Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth, dispatches our heroes in an unrelenting storm of bloody mayhem.   As a result, Tian Hao and Zhi Sheng become the only senior pupils left to protect Sifu Yuan from Chief Hong’s machinations.  This culminates in Cheng Yun Mudou sending out Senji, his kunoichi, to pose as a damsel in need of support.  Zhi Sheng falls for the ruse hook, line and sinker as she builds trust with him, while Tian Hao remains ambivalent to her presence.  What our heroes don’t know is that Senji is using her time behind the scenes to map out the Sifu’s lair.  By the time they do realize this, it’s too late and EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL.  Senji betrays Zhi Sheng, ninjas massacre the school, we learn kinky ways to tie people up and find out how hilarious asphyxiation can be.  With all this carnage happening in the middle of the film, how the hell can our heroes get revenge against those dastardly ninjas?

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Five Element Ninjas is a jaw-dropping triumph in execution (pun intended).  Chang’s camera work is top notch as he captures the action at a relentless pace, where hits, parries and blocks pepper the screen with long lasting frames and very little cutting.  Furthermore, each fight on display is of the highest quality, featuring Chang Cheh’s love of weapons, blood and sets.   Speaking of sets, the Ninjas’ use of the environment in the film may seem comical at first, but it comes together like nothing else, especially with the Wood Ninjas in the forest.  In terms of stunts, all the actors on display show so much prowess and skill that it’s almost baffling.  During my first view of the film, my jaw was literally hanging out, especially during the relentlessness of the first half.

If there’s any downside to Five Element Ninjas, it’s that the pacing is quite uneven, with Senji’s infiltration being the most obvious example.  When Senji’s not scribbling the layout of the lair to the Ninja horde, she’s out there doing chores or being doe-eyed with Zhi Sheng.  Also, Tian Hao is a gigantic jerk to her.  Now it might seem that he’s justified for acting like this in the second half, but Chang Cheh throws something in that does give you a little food for thought later on (no spoilers).  Overall, Senji’s infiltration is a very slow-moving arc in the film that deflates it somewhat, but I have the feeling that it’s intentional since it helps to make the Ninja invasion all the more jarring and visceral.  It does get a little slow in the beginning of the second half due to lots of training scenes, but it’s a necessary set up for the final epic showdown which does not disappoint.  Filled with dynamic fights, epic bloodshed and enough ninjas to give you seizures, Five Element Ninjas is another Shaw Brothers classic from Chang Cheh that not only lives up to it’s reputation, but does so with gut-trampling panache.

Gennaro Contaldo Rocks!

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Labor Day weekend was awesome.  I ate like a pig, almost got stung by a bee and got to stroll thru more of my surroundings here in the D.C. / VA area.  The GF’s idea of making dumplings was rad indeed on Sunday and we’ll  have food for quite a bit now.  One of the other culinary highlights for me was that we teamed up to make a dish that I’ve longed to make: Ragu.  Not your store bought brand of Ragu pasta sauce but the Ragu where you slow cook meat in a tomato-ish wine sauce.  Now who in the world told me it was a good idea to make something that would’ve been fixed by a jar?  I’ll tell you who.  Gennaro Contaldo.

The name might not strike a bell here in the States, but in the UK, he has a bit of a name for himself.  The most famous thing connected to Gennaro that we Americans may know of is his protege Jamie Oliver.  With the Food Network’s waning power on Cable TV, Jamie and his gang of cooks have hit the jackpot in the streaming world via Food Tube (which is conveniently on YouTube), and Gennaro is one of Jamie’s many associates dabbling out his foodcraft on the interwebs.  Sure, it may seem trite that Mr. Contaldo hustles only in pasta, but that would be a lazy generalization.  Thanks to him, my own preconceptions of Italian food have taken a hike.  The GF has already made butternut squash pasta twice and below is my Ragu concoction with tagliatelle.

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If you’re on the fence about Gennaro, believe me, I can relate.  However, his bravado and knowledge is infectious and I would definitely encourage you guys to watch, learn and cook.  He’s also got a TON of catchphrases, including his bombastic “WHY I’M COOKING SO GOOD!!!???”  Gennaro’s videos all happen in 3 general locations, his own kitchen, in Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant  and in his hometown, the Amalfi Coast.  Below are some of my favorites, including his Ragu recipe.  I hope you all will give his show and books a chance.  Now watch, learn, cook and enjoy!

Naika Reviews “Urban Square: Kouhaku no Tsuigeki”

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“Th’ fuck am I doing in this O-V-AAAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!???”

There was a time in the 80s when the OVA (Original Video Animation) was king.  It provided the chance for both animation directors and studios to experiment with whatever the hell they wanted.  Some were one-shots, while others were probably cash-grabs.  Many have gained a cult following, where one in particular has become one of the most beloved of all time, but that’s not the kind of OVA I’m here to talk about today.  The OVA I’m here to discuss is not a high brow masterpiece.  It is not based on a popular manga.  Hell, it’s not even all that original.  Nevertheless, this particular OVA excels in execution, color, action and the kind of fuck-this attitude that illustrates why this decade of anime is so beloved by fandom the world over.  Now sit back, take a deep breath, put on your favorite jazz record and light it up as we shoot the breeze over Akira Nishimori’s Urban Square.

Ryou Matsumoto is just a down-on-his-luck screenwriter.  He’s young, single and not really all that wise in the business.  Nothing he writes gets greenlit, and tonight is just one of those nights all over again. He’s frustrated, so he does what other pissed-off screenwriters do when nothing seems to work: He shacks up in the bar and decides to get smashed.  Fucker doesn’t even finish his whiskey and guess who walks in?  Yep, you guessed it, that piece of ass who he’s going to chase throughout the entire fucking movie.

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“Ooooh mama look at her drive that stick shift. Keep this shit up and she’ll brrrrr-eak it!”

However, that goes by the wayside for a bit because before he knows it, he’s being chased by Roy friggin’ Batty for witnessing a murder.  What Ryou soon realizes is that he becomes embroiled in an antiques smuggling operation that’s willing to off him and whoever else stands in the way.  Add the hard-boiled Detective Mochizuki in the mix and you got yourself a certified red-meat action thriller in OVA format.  Oh, and did I mention that during all this craziness, Ryou still had the fucking temerity to hit some ass?  Oh I did?  Well he does, and she’s an utter badass!

Our female lead is Yuki Tamura and she’s no damsel-in-distress.  Instead, she’s a whip-smart grad student who finds out her grad mentor is in cahoots with the smugglers.  Telling you why her boss is involved is too hard for me to do right now ‘cuz I’m lazy, but let’s just say her troubles, coupled with Ryou’s, helps to bring them together.  However, no one really takes their life-death issues seriously except for the aforementioned Mochizuki since he’s the wise-ass that pisses off EVERYONE on the force.  He knows something’s up and goes through life and limb to help our two lovebirds out.  He carries guns, guns and big guns and all he does is either smoke his cigs or smokes the bad guys.  Nobody fucks with Mochizuki!

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“Lemme show you how impractical actual policing really is by blowing your fucking brains out without any due process!!!”

Urban Square is so full of 80s goodness that it hurts.  From the awesome Jazz fusion score by Hidefumi Toki and his band Chicken Shack to the great use of colors which bring us all back to a ‘much simpler time.’  Hell, there’s even a Bruce Lee send off where Ryou has to fight a superbly animated henchman with all the moves from the Little Dragon himself.  Mochizuki is more or less a Dirty Harry send off and Yuki’s awesome car chase scene is a welcome nod to any great stunt set-piece you’ve seen 30+ years ago.  Furthermore, Ryou himself mirrors the kind of spunky protagonist that you’d find in movies like Fright Night or The Monster Squad, where he’s waaaaay in over his head yet refuses to back down, even at the cost of his life.  In this day and age, you’d be hard pressed to find great one-shots like Urban Square, but for any hard-boiled 80s anime geek, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.  OVAs like this are a reminder that anime wasn’t always so thought-provoking, but was likely to be a big, dumb and pulpy enterprise that was ready to flip you the bird without any hesitation.  And you know what?  That’s quite alright.  Now stop reading this shit and go watch it.

Farewell Florida

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Way too much has happened in the last few months for me to even sit down and write anything, but after the tragedies in Orlando, Brexit, Istanbul and a whole host of other depressing things occurring throughout the world, what I wanted to write about seems like small potatoes.

But yes, I am officially not a Floridian anymore.  As of yesterday, I am now residing in the Virginia area with a new job in D.C.  It’s a new adventure for me, and most importantly, with my missus.  We’ve been apart for quite a while now aside from the visits we’ve had between Arlington and Tampa, but now I’ve landed some work and I’ll get to be with her from now on.  For those of you in the know, it’s been a grueling experience looking for work in a new state, but the new team seems to like my skills.  It’s a new type of job (that’s still related to cancer research) and I’m a bit nervous, but I’m also hoping that my work ethic will pay off and that I can stick around for the long term.  Cross your fingers for me please!  In reference to my blog, my tag line use to be “the Chicagoan in Florida” but I guess that won’t work anymore.  Any ideas for a new tag line would be most welcome indeed.

I’m sad to leave my parents, relatives and pals in the FL, but let’s raise our glasses to some positives here too.  Euro is turning out to be one helluva tournament (Wales, Iceland, keep it up) and I’m hoping Arsenal will snag more players since the silly season has officially started.  Here’s a big shout out to all my Floridian peeps for their love and support during this trying time and please know that no matter how hard I try to forget y’all, I really won’t.  Thank you for being so crazy Florida, and thank you for being such a confounding yet wonderful backdrop for me and the last 9 years of my life.