About naikanomtom

Chicago native, former Florida resident and now, a Virginian. This is an extension of my now deceased YouTube channel, which will feature blog posts of various subjects, most of which will be fun and or lame. Subjects will include my thoughts on film, humor, food, politics and of course anime. Although I don't have the heart to dabble in anime music videos nowadays, I hope this will be a welcome place for my old fans, and a low-key refuge for new ones.

Naika Reviews “Moonlight”

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I watched Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight for the first time recently, and what struck me the most about the film was how lurid and dream-like it was .  Maybe that’s just the way memories play out in our minds when we reminisce, but to see it all done so lovingly was just a sight to behold.  Color, words and music all collide into a kaleidoscope of emotions that literally guide us through time, where nothing is rushed.  And like the best dreams, Moonlight is one where mood and feeling are paramount.

The first feeling I get when I think back about Moonlight is this sense of drift that’s present throughout the film.  Whether it’s us seeing Chiron in the water with Juan for the first time or when he’s sharing a moment with Kevin under a blue moon, the movie makes real-life moments feel larger with careful camerawork, expressive lighting, epic music and evocative acting from a stellar cast.  However, this sense of drift can totally transition to chaos, and no scene encapsulates that more than Paula’s shouting scene.  Though her words are muted, Paula’s framing, gestures and lighting radiates a drug-fueled, red-hot fury towards her son Chiron, where we see first hand what our hero endures in his own home.  These sudden shifts add punctuation to a moody piece like Moonlight, making it a dreamy and memorable piece of moviemaking.

Secondly, my feelings towards Moonlight are deeply rooted in how well it captures adolescent angst and marginalization.  Chiron’s world is one of isolation, and he is bullied, beaten and berated for simply being himself.  This is best exemplified in the film’s very first scene, where we find Chiron hiding form his tormentors in a crackhouse.  Our hero is a textbook victim of toxic masculinity, and Jenkins’ camera shows us first hand how a boy’s sense of self can collapse when friends, family, and peers view him as being ‘less than a man’. The many scenes depicting Chiron’s desperation, sadness and confusion are strikingly relatable, making us root for him as he finds solace early on through his only paternal anchor and champion, Juan.

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Sadly, it’s this admiration for Juan that makes Chiron’s life as an adult all the more difficult.  After taking a chair to that asshole Terrel and, unfortunately, going to Juvie for it, Chiron emerges from it all as a grown man.  However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for him.  With only a few glances, one can easily see that he not only embodies the image of Juan, but his chosen profession as well.  This brings me to the last thing that tugs at my heart about Moonlight: it’s third act.

The feelings I get from this third chapter in Chiron’s life are amazing, yet very difficult to explain.  I was thrilled to see him as an adult with his own life and all, but it’s obvious that he’s both troubled and lost.  It’s only when Kevin comes calling that we see Chiron finally ready (and willing) to not only confront his past, but to finally take that first step towards reclaiming himself.  This is where we dive into Moonlight’s most talked about scene: the meal between Chiron and Kevin.  It’s a scene for the ages really, as a shy Chiron, sitting alone in a diner, finds himself face to face with a Kevin he barely recognizes.  And despite all of this, the magic is there and they both share silence and laughter over a meal that Kevin improvises with great care.

I also love this scene because we’re not only seeing a Chiron that’s shy and stumbling, but an adult Chiron who’s smiling, eating, and, in a lot of ways, rekindling something he thought he lost.  Furthermore, the warm lighting, the homely setting and Kevin’s probing reveals that our hero, despite his tough appearance, is a guy who just wants to be loved for who he is.  This is best exemplified when the film shifts to Kevin’s house for the finale.  With both men finally together after years apart, we find Chiron in Kevin’s arms, with his face free from torment.  His eyes, trapped in happiness, seem to be wandering off to some far away time in his past, where we cut to a young Chiron at the beach, draped in blue, with the ocean far ahead of him as he turns to look back at us,…at a grown, and happy, Chiron.

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All in all, Chiron’s tale is a tale of a gay black youth battling toxic masculinity, homophobia and self-hatred in a world that demands that he be anything but himself.  Yet Moonlight’s battle is a battle for the ages.  By showing us this story, Jenkins and his team have drawn us into a dream, a quest, and an odyssey that reminds us all that, despite what others say, we are born with radiance.  For me, Moonlight’s ending act captures this idea perfectly.  After reclaiming his Mother’s love, an adult Chiron finds a path to himself and is embraced by the one who knew him best.   And in that singular moment of joy, the film’s final moment cuts to that solitary shot of that kid on the beach, glancing back as he shines under the moonlight.  Yes, the film ends here, but isn’t that the point?  Chiron has found love, hope and the essence of who he’s meant to be.  And from there, as we ponder about his future during the credits, we can finally see that for him, anything’s possible.

No More Words Left for 2018

As of this moment, we are well under way into the longest government shutdown in American history.  One that was pre-empted by much of Donald Trump’s utter bullshit from 2018.  Honestly, last year has been a brutal year for me personally and it was not different for the rest of the world last year.  Storms, wildfires, monsoons, and the onslaught of conservative politics are things that I, really, don’t want to re-live.  Furthermore, it’s too late to do a year-end review so I’ll be focusing more on 2019 in the coming posts.  Until then, stay strong as we continue to dive into another year.

Christmas Update 2018

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So it’s been a long time since I updated this blog in regards to anything relevant to me and my life thusfar, so let me start this by wishing y’all a Happy Holiday.  A great deal of my absence in writing this year stems from the fact that this has been a CRAZY month in regards to work.

Last November, we had lots of turnover and it was all up to me, my P.I. and my Research Nurse to steer our clinical research ship in the right direction while we searched for new staff members.  It was a tough year filled with lots of mishaps and lessons.  I got schooled in Phase 1 research, regulatory submissions and Phase 1 enrollments.  All good things of course, but this was while I was overwhelmed with my own Phase 2-3 research, so let me be clear:  this was NOT easy.   I can safely say that as of this year, we are now fully staffed with 2 awesome and talented individuals who are riding the reigns of Phase 1 with an awesome manager, and I’m now back to my old workload.  It’s still lots of research related stuff that I’ve been catching up with again, but I’ve come away from this experience with so much under my belt in the CRC (Clinical Research Coordinator) realm.  Also, I survived my first research audit, and, to me, that’s even more ammo on the shelf.  Lastly, I can safely cap off this year with a certification that, I hope, can go a long way.  It’s been a brutal year in terms of work, but yes….I survived it!

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An old photo of Byron’s Hot Dogs from Chicago.  Miss this place so much!

Another highlight for me to reminisce about was that my Wife and I finally got a chance to go back to Chicago after a six-year absence.  She was presenting at a conference over there in April, and we had a chance to enjoy the food and scenery with snow!  I even got to introduce her to Byron’s, my neighborhood Hot Dog joint, which, I am proud to say, is the only one to serve their fare in the White House in 2009 since Barack Obama is a huge fan of the place.  She also got a chance to try Al’s Italian Beef in Downtown, and even my local taco place, Taco & Burrito House.  However, the place she pointed out that was super awesome was the Chicago French Market, where you get BBQ chicken, banh mi and even pastrami under one roof.  For those that haven’t been to Chi-town, if there’s nothing that interests you there, then go and focus on the food.  I’m biased of course, but for good reason.  I swear Chicago, we WILL be back!

As a few of you know, I spend a lot of time here reviewing movies and such when time permits.  Although 2018 wasn’t a great year for that, it WAS a great year for movies in general.  In terms of Superhero films, 2 stand out for me:  Black Panther and Aquaman.  Not sure if I’m going to do reviews on them in the future, but those two had EVERYTHING a Superhero film needed:  a good story, excellent background for our protagonists, imaginative backdrops, decent fight scenes, forty scoops of diversity and tons of entertainment.  You can totally see Black Panther on Netflix (you should….you REALLY should) and revel at history in the making while Aquaman should totally be enjoyed at your local IMAX theater TODAY.  And speaking of diversity, this was a BANNER year for diversity in film.  Crazy Rich Asians?  Black Panther?  Into the Spider-verse?  Roma? And what about TV?  Yes, it’s still a LONG way to go in that front folks, but can’t we celebrate that for 2018, we at least had a small glimpse of how diverse the world really is on the silver screen?

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And lastly, the only other goofy thing I can chat about myself for this year is that, yeah, I’m finally playing something on my PS4.  We purchased a few retro mini consoles over the year, like the NES mini and the Neo Geo mini, but the Missus gave me this really awesome birthday gift: Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise.  I’ve been jamming on that whenever time permits and it’s been soooooo cool.  If you haven’t seen the anime, or the comics for that matter, then the game might seem a bit weird for ya.  However, for fans like me, it’s a dream come true.  This is especially the case when I get the chance to slug somebody a hundred times a minute.

So yeah, that’s the lowdown on me.  It’s been a wild year and hopefully, I’ll write my year-end review sometime soon.  Until then, enjoy your Holidays folks!

Naika Reviews “Mr. Vampire”

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Did you ever wish there was a horror film that had slapstick comedy, practical effects, amazing stunt work and Hong Kong fight choreography?  Well this Halloween, look no further than to the Hong Kong classic that is Mr. Vampire from 1985.  Even though it wasn’t the pioneer of the jiang shi (or “hopping corpse”) genre, Mr. Vampire’s the one that made it famous all over Asia.  Its success was so massive that it spawned 3 sequels and a slew of other films that would recycle the same actors in vaguely similar roles from the original.  Ain’t that crazy?  Produced by Sammo Hung and starring fellow Hong Kong stuntmen such as Lam Ching Ying and Chin Siu-ho, Mr. Vampire is an action-packed horror comedy of the Hong Kong kind that’s so crazy that it can’t be missed.  So let’s all be adventurous and dive right in.

Master Kau and Master Four-Eyes (Lam Ching Ying and Anthony Chan respectively) are two Taoist priests who run a business transporting recently dead jiang shi back to their hometowns for a proper burial.  Using special paper talismans to reanimate and control these stiffs, both men are portrayed as pros who know that handling hopping corpses ain’t for laughs.  However, this wouldn’t be a comedy without their two stoopid apprentices, Man-choi (the late Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho).  Their dumbfuckery is best seen in the film’s opening, where Chau-sang’s prank on Man-choi blows off the all-important paper talismans that immobilize their jiang shi clients.  With a bunch of hopping-mad stiffs on the loose, Kau and Four Eyes hurriedly (and hilariously) come to the rescue to not only subdue these stiffs, but to save their students from themselves.

Master Four-Eyes (L) and Master Kau (R) give a big ‘F*CK YOU’ to their apprentices before they go out for some Yum Cha in Ricky Lau’s “Mr. Vampire.”

The plot rolls ahead once we’re introduced to the wealthy Master Yam and his daughter Ting Ting (the bodacious Moon Lee Choi-fung, in her first big role before becoming an action star).  Yam is looking to have his father reburied elsewhere in order to bring more luck to his family and invites both Kau and Man-choi to a Western-style brunch, hoping to enlist their help. This scene in particular is a bit goofy given that both Kau and Man-choi have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to anything West of China, and Ting Ting, being the most knowledgeable of the bunch, gets a few giggles in at our heroes’ expense.  However, this payoff doesn’t come without her getting creeped out by the leery eyes of Man-choi.  Yuck!

It’s only when Master Kau agrees to rebury Yam’s father do things start to get spooky.  Upon exhumation, our merry band of Taoists are shocked to discover that the corpse has yet to decompose, prompting fears that this stiff may come back to terrorize the living.  With all this in mind, Kau and company decide to move this would-be jiang shi into their lair for confinement.  However, since we have TWO DUMBSHIT apprentices here, things do NOT go as planned.  Not only does our corpse escape, its ferocity ignites a hilarious car-crash of events where Kau, Man-choi, Chau-sang and Ting Ting all team up to fight a jiang-shi which grows more powerful after each battle.  Oh, and did I mention that throughout all of this, Master Four-Eyes, the only other priest in this group, is away guiding other hopping stiffs for burial?

Moon Lee endures another Bey Logan impersonator in Ricky Lau’s “Mr. Vampire.”

Though the plot (minus the spooky) seems pretty standard for Hong Kong fare of the 80s, Mr. Vampire makes up for that with hilarious hi-jinks that are centered around polished stunts and special effects.  My guess is that Sammo Hung’s hand as producer was essential for making the action here as bombastic as possible.  With the legendary Yuen Wah as the invincibly evil “Mr. Vampire”, we get to see how our heroes fight this terror with full-impact hits, painful falls and amazing pyrotechnics once Wah’s burned alive….twice!  The Hong Kong fight choreography also adds rhythmic intensity to scenes where our heroes either need to block hits, run like hell or scream like babies.  One of the standout scenes for me is how Chau-sang deals with a recently turned jiang shi in a prison while Master Kau looks on from his cell after being wrongly convicted for the death of said jiang shi.  Chau-sang hides, runs, fights, does flips, and screams for his life like a madman, and it’s ALL AWESOME!  This fun mixture of humor and action, combined with the scary groans of the jiang shi, transforms your typical Hong Kong fight scene into a heart-pounding set-piece that delivers laughs AND scares.  With scenes like this peppered throughout the film, it’s no wonder that Mr. Vampire was such a massive hit all over Asia.

However, let me be clear and say that  Mr. Vampire isn’t without its flaws.  Some scenes tend to drag a bit, especially those that feature the insufferable Billy Lau.  Furthermore, some of the humor found in Mr. Vampire is, unfortunately, a bit dated.  This is especially the case when it comes to our perverted apprentices, as well as a scene where the mental handicap of a rice-seller’s son is shown for laughs.  Also, am I the only one who thinks that Moon Lee should be beating-up zombies left and right instead of being a damsel-in-distress who gets sidelined for household stuff?  Though this movie pre-dates her status as a Girls-with-Guns alumnus in the Hong Kong film industry, I still wished Moon had more to do in the ass-kicking department.  These issues aren’t exactly deal-breakers for me, but I think we can all see why folks might be turned off by this, especially when it comes to the dated jokes.

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Man-choi (L) gets scared shitless by Chau-sang in Ricky Lau’s “Mr. Vampire”.

Despite these concerns, Mr. Vampire emerges as a rockin’ film that showcases the best of what Hong Kong cinema had to offer in the 1980s.  Filled with fights, laughs, scares and mishaps, this film delivers with universal thrills in a uniquely Chinese cultural package.  Now, it’s easy for the casual viewer to be intimidated by the myths that surround the jiang shi, but if you go into it with an open mind, Mr. Vampire will reward you handsomely.  The fact that jiang shi mania swept Japan, South Korea and the rest of Southeast Asia decades ago is ample evidence for this.  Furthermore, with recent films like 2013’s Rigor Mortis leading the genre’s revival (which, I might add, features both Chin Siu-ho and Anthony Chan), this is probably THE best time to sit down and see this awesome classic.  So set the holy water aside this season, and gear up for a horror comedy that’ll leave you burnt, bruised and hopping mad for some high-kicking Hong Kong action.  Thank you all for reading and have a Happy Halloween!!

Taking Her for Granted

I never ever thought she would go.  I always thought, “Oh, it’s Aretha.  She ain’t going anywhere.  I’ll listen to her stuff more another time.  She’ll always be around.”  And guess what?  She’s gone.  Gone.  After all the history she’s made, Respect and Natural Woman may be the ONLY songs I know from her.  I’m sorry Aretha.  You deserved a ton more from me.  Maybe from a whole lotta others too.  You were a pioneer, an activist, the lady that helped usher in the Obama years and so much more.  Rest well in that throne of yours Aretha.  From what I gather, you will be hard to eclipse…