Naika Reviews “DOPE”

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Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is the nerd comedy that our young generation needed.  Before that, the only big budget film depicting nerd life to me was Revenge of the Nerds, and that was in the 80’s.  Sure, there’s been other movies that touched on the subject, but nothing comes close to the zaniness and vulnerability of the Nerd film quite like Dope has.  2016 is a different time now and we all would like things to be a bit more diverse, so it’s refreshing to see that finally, a black nerd takes center stage.

Dope focuses on the life and times of Malcolm Adekanbi (portrayed with panache by Shameik Moore), an Inglewood high school senior who get good grades, stays out of trouble and loves 90’s hip-hop.  Flanked by his two best friends and punk-rock bandmates, lesbian wonder-girl Diggy and the goofy yet earnest Jib, Malcolm is dreaming of the day when he can finally attend Harvard and leave his hard surroundings behind him.   However, things take a strange turn for Malcolm when he finds out that neighborhood tough guy Dom stashes his bag full of drugs during a very dubious party that ends in a shoot-out.  With options dropping minute by minute, Malcolm has to find a way to not only get rid of the drugs, but to do so without ruining his future.

There’s a lot that I love about Dope, but one of the elements I that I feel it gets right is the sense of WTF that occurs once Malcolm discovers the drugs in his bag.  His initial reaction is gold and the way the film sets up the promise you see in Malcolm’s life thusfar makes the revelation of the drugs all the more tense, confounding and jarring, much like getting hit by a Mack truck.  Lets also be honest and say that the revelation digs deeper for the fact that Malcolm is black (duh), and as y’all know, the consequences for him are a LOT worse compared to your average white or asian kid.  This sense of urgency transforms the film from an urban coming-of-age tale to a caper-like escapade, where Malcolm is forced to use his wits to elude danger, wackiness and some very shady people in order to survive.

I also felt that Dope really portrayed the life of a nerd better than most films do nowadays while not curbing around with the stereotypes.  For example, Malcolm isn’t some dweeb with glasses and a pocket protector.  He likes 90’s hip-hop culture, and that seems to really RILE up the bullies in his life.  One scene in particular that stuck with me was when he was harassed in the school hallways and was pushed onto the lockers, where said thugs / bullies questioned his “weird” style and fashion, while trying to steal his damn sneakers.  No one helps him except the security guard, who earnestly feels that Malcolm’s a good guy.  Nevertheless, scenes like that where school violence spurts out from unhinged and ultimately insecure assholes are what grounds Dope on reality, and this is especially the case when Malcolm fights back in his own way.  Overall, Dope is a fun coming-of-age film which revitalizes how we see nerd-life onscreen.  Its fresh approach in a very REAL setting reminds us that the plight of the geek extends beyond the realm of the straight white boy, and into the hands of some very cool, smart and hip teens of color.  If that doesn’t spell out DOPE to you, then I don’t know what will.

Heaven is Purple Tonight

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My father used to tell me that if there was one musician who was an underrated genius, it would be Prince.  Gifted in song, vision, fashion and musicianship, Prince was, and is, an icon in the truest sense.  He stood out in so many ways, and his music, especially in the 80’s, has a timelessness that continues to defy conventions.  And speaking of conventions, Prince himself was unconventional in every sense.  He challenged our notions of not only what was sexy, but about what it meant to be yourself.  He wasn’t afraid of criticism, and he certainly wasn’t afraid of the Music Industry either.   Hirohiko Araki, author of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, loves Prince so much that he models much of his work (from Unbreakable Diamond onward) on his face and fashions.  Like Bowie, Maurice White, and a whole host of others who have passed so suddenly this year, I felt like they’d never go, and yet here we are on a Thursday, shocked at work to find the man who churned the clouds to give us Purple Rain is gone.  There was still so much that I didn’t know or experience with this magician.  I’ve never listened to his newer material.  I missed out on his Super Bowl performance.  I still haven’t sat down to watch Purple Rain.  With doves crying in the downpour, it’s clear for us to see that Heaven is Purple tonight.

You’re a jerk Skeletor

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Let me be clear and say that the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is a huge jerk.  His nicknames include Skeletor and Voldemort, and for good reason.  He loves to cut programs.  He likes to play party politics.  He basically declined free stimulus money that was destined for what could’ve been the first high speed rail system in the country and feels like ‘hey, lets support ports!’  He also can’t take criticism and shuts out interviews. Oh, and he likes to plead the fifth…especially when it comes to health fraud.  Simply put, Rick Scott is a disgrace to the State of Florida.

So when Cara Jennings took Scott to task on his bill that essentially screws around with Planned Parenthood at a Starbucks last week, it’s no surprise that he walked away while doing what he does best: mouth off sound bites and surround himself with his ‘entourage.’

This video proves that women have more cajones than men in many respects simply because they have none to lose.  Shit, I wish I had the balls to call Scott out on some of the crap that he’s gotten away with.  However, none of us expected to get a rebuttal so soon.  Just last Sunday, Rick Scott released this video below which was a DIRECT attack on Cara above, and it’s God awful.

How Rick Scott pooled the funds and resources to make a video in only a few days makes me wonder where the fuck his priorities are, and it sure ain’t about serving the people of Florida.  It illustrates that Scott not only lacks class, but credibility.  Moreover, it once again proves how out of touch he and the rest of his ‘gang’ are with the rest of the state.  Cara was interviewed recently about her encounter with Scott and goes into more detail about it below, which once again tells us that he’s a jerk.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you find your Governor picking on concerned citizens.  It looks bad on him.  It tarnishes the already damaged reputation of the state and makes the rest of us wonder if Rick Scott is waging some sort of ideological war against common sense programs that provide for others.  This was not the kind of Florida that I voted for, and if you did, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Naika Reviews “They Live”

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With Roddy Piper’s passing last year, I thought it came time for me to finally have my say about this amazing film.  Despite being a big fan of both The Thing & Big Trouble in Little China, there’s quite a few other features from John Carpenter that I haven’t touched yet, mainly Halloween and his other horror classics (which will hopefully change soon).  They Live was also in that category, but that all changed for me in 2014 and I’m all the better for it.  The film is a triumph in so many ways that I find myself unable to write anything that would do it justice.  However, I find that They Live’s greatest quality is also its most foreboding as it makes more relevance to us now than it ever did in 1988.

This quality that I am referring to is (if this makes sense) its timelessness.  John Carpenter was NOT a fan of Ronald Reagan during the 1980s and wanted to create a sci-fi ‘fuck you’ film where we’re shown an impoverished L.A. full of haves and have-nots.  The haves being a bunch of yuppies while the have-nots are the multi-ethnic working poor and homeless.  Drawing inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and a variety of other stories and graphic novels, John Carpenter decided to give this story a twist where our would be hero, a nameless, job-seeking drifter portrayed by Piper, stumbles onto a dark plot. One in which the working poor are bred as both labor and cattle for the 1%.

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Little by little in the film, we’re shown an America that is depleted of hope and opportunity.  Wherever Roddy Piper turns, he finds a lack of work, a whole lotta bums and the watchful eye of the Police on every corner.  Yet when he looks up, he sees skyscrapers one after the other like watchtowers.  His buddy Frank (portrayed with perfection by the legendary Keith David) tells him the score, but Piper says, “I just want the chance. It’ll come. I believe in America,” like he’s down, but not out.  That line of thinking from Piper soon goes to the shitter once he stumbles onto a special pair of Ray-Bans.  Once they’re on, these specs also allow Piper to see things no one else can.  Colors go black and white.  Billboards on the street carry subliminal messages.  Store fronts bark out orders.  Codes and rules are hidden in dollar bills and magazines, but the worse is when he sees those yuppie fucks for what they really are.

Starting off with a slow but focused build up in the beginning, They Live soon accelerates at a very tight but even pace which makes you wonder why movies these days can’t do more in only 90+ minutes.  The film has great special effects, imaginative make-up, an awesome 5 minute fight scene and a ton of memorable, bubblegum-chewing one liners (which I won’t spoil here).  In addition, the film accomplishes all of this under a tight budget without preaching to any choir (literally).  Films nowadays seem to rely so much on spoken narration for everything that it’s awesome to see something that just lays it all out for you to decipher on your own.

Technical merits aside, we circle back to They Live’s most important quality again, and that is its relevance or timelessness.  I first viewed the film as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri grew louder and louder, and the film’s raid scene in particular had an emotional effect on me as I started to wonder if the police depicted in the film were any different from the ones on Call-of-Duty mode around St. Louis.  Trump and Cruz continue to wage their war of hate words on TV for the 2016 GOP nomination and I wonder if they truly are as ghastly as John Carpenter’s yuppies.  And as the shadow of corporate power looms larger over the American political process, it makes me wonder why so much of this country’s disastrous greed continuous to ‘feed’ on us with impunity. They Live paints a surreal yet familiar landscape for us where the madness on-screen now becomes indistinguishable from the reality around us.  That, my friends, is frightening.

Thoughts on Lincoln

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I had a great time in D.C. with the GF, but returning to the status quo of not being together has more or less imprisoned me in a very familiar cage of silence.  I’ve got no one to laugh with or discuss things with, and no one to really share food with.  Therefore, I’m thankful for having those five days full of what used to be our lives.

The overarching feeling I got from traveling between Arlington and the District was this unique sense of rediscovery as an American.  Let me just say that in light of many recent events, I haven’t been proud of my association with this country.  Individuals who are running for the highest seat of office have said some very MEAN things.  SCARY things.  XENOPHOBIC things.  This is all stirring a pot of sentiment that’s been on a slow boil for years now, while on the other side of the kitchen, we have many who are rightfully protesting racial violence and inequality on all fronts as more and more sad revelations come to light.  This election year will no doubt become another year of self-reflection and soul-searching as the nation’s ideals go toe-to-toe with its outlandish and confounding appetite for self-destruction.

When GF took me to the Lincoln Memorial, I was awestruck by the size of the structure because frankly, it was bigger than what I had imagined.  Everywhere I looked, folks from literally ALL walks of life were there.  I saw little girls with hijabs running up and down the steps.  I saw Black and Latin girlfriends taking selfies near the reflection pool.  Me and a host of other Asians were fixed on the statue itself, clicking away at our cameras or just staring at the immensity of it all.  And of course, a nice tourist asked me to snap family photos by the statue itself.  Long story short, I was in awe of both what stood in front of me and what was unfolding around me.  Under the fatherly gaze of Abraham Lincoln, I was reminded about the promise of America and the hope that comes about as we ruminate on its legacy.  I looked at the big picture and I was thankful that I had the right to assemble here, to think here and to honor so much here in the Lincoln Memorial without fear of reprisal.  As an Illinois native, a boy from the Land of Lincoln, maybe I didn’t travel so far to finally see the man.  With his words etched around us in a marble sanctuary, maybe this wasn’t the first time for me to visit him.  Maybe this wasn’t just sightseeing.  Maybe I came home.

Holy Half Smoke Batman, I LOVE Ben’s Chili Bowl!

Well folks, I am actually in the Arlington / D.C. area for a bit to visit the GF and so far, it’s been lovely.  I get to see Colonial architecture, the downtown sights of VA, a heck of a lot more diversity compared to Florida and food food food.  And let’s be honest folks, nothing says D.C. like Ben’s Chili Bowl (well, that and the rest of our capital’s amazing monuments).  After first hearing about Ben Ali’s D.C. landmark in the TV show Man vs. Food, me and GF told ourselves that we HAD to go.  With an Arlington branch just a few blocks away from her apartment, we strolled on over to feast on the legendary Chili Half Smoke, and it did NOT disappoint.

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Full of snap and smoky goodness, the Chili Half Smoke has got it all: diced onions, mustard, and Ben’s signature chili featuring a nice, spicy kick.  As a Chicagoan that loves his hot dogs, Ben’s Chili Half Smoke can give the Polish or Chicago Hot Dog a run for its money.  I loved it so much that I had to get ANOTHER one.  Shit, I might just get ANOTHER ONE before I check outta here next week.  In short, the area is great, but the Half Smoke around here is KING.  If you’re ever here in the D.C. / Arlington area, shed off that Organic fad for one day, and feast at Ben’s Chili Bowl.  Trust me, it’s the democratic thing to do.  ^_^