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Category: Culture

Best Guitarist In The World Speaks

Hey look, Richard Thompson is writing an autobiography! This is stupendously exciting to me, particularly since he’s apparently going to focus on the late 60s and early 70s. Nothing against his prodigious and high quality output subsequent to those years, but that was the period of tumultuous change. I am curious to see what he has to say.

I assume that Scott Timberg is doing the heavy lifting on the writing. I don’t know his work but he has a blog. He says “Few living musicians fascinate me as much as Richard Thompson” in a brief blog entry which links to a longer chewy interview. Getting Thompson to open up on the process of learning Classical Greek is kind of cool. I am optimistic.

Waiting for a year and a half for this is no fun at all.

Noir City 2018 Seattle

Seattle has a great film scene. It’s on par with San Francisco — no Alamo Drafthouse up here, but we have the Cinerama and SIFF is an excellent film society. I thought I was going to miss Eddie Mueller’s San Francisco based film noir festivals, but it turns out he runs a slightly abbreviated version of the festival up here every year.

It’s that time of year! This’ll be my third go-round at one version or another of this festival. Previous years have coincided with lapsed blogging, alas.

This year’s festival leans heavily into the classics. I am looking forward to watching The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon again. I’ve never seen Mildred Pierce or The Blue Dahlia. This should be awesome.

Art and Games

My friend Pongo wrote an artist’s statement about Ingress. She speaks truth: I have worked with Pongo for over a year now and her ability to infuse the canvas of the game with story is inherently artistic.

I play for different reasons than she does. I’ve been coordinating the actions of teams for 20 years now, at first on AmberMUSH but soon thereafter in my professional career. I’m good at it. Ingress is a difficult but satisfying instance of that task, in a framework that requires me to think on several different layers (people, logistics, tactics, and on occasion grand strategy).

It’s really interesting to consider the game in artistic terms, though.

(“Hey, why did you pick up the blog again?” “Some of my friends are sufficiently artistic to make me feel bad about letting my writing go fallow.”)

Cold War Confession

Now it can finally be told: up till 2018, I hadn’t successfully read a Le Carré novel. I know this is awful. I love espionage thrillers, I love conspiratorial stuff, and I love great prose. Failing at Le Carré is a major hole in my cultural education. I have no idea what the blocker was. It’s not like I didn’t try often enough.

But the other week I read a review of Our Kind of Traitor and something about the topicality of a Russian vor looking to defect intrigued me, so I picked up yet another Le Carré book and gave it a swing. It was awesome. There’s lots of tension, it moves quickly, and the characterization is great. This is undoubtedly true of everything the man wrote, but this novel hooked me. Maybe because there’s less mystery? I wasn’t sure who was getting manipulated by who till a fairly late stage, but it’s not the kind of subtle obfuscated mystery that we get in the Karla trilogy. Either way I loved it. Bonus points for a cynical conclusion.

Speaking of which, I have now finished Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and am happily steaming through The Honorable Schoolboy. I see no obstacles from here to the horizon. I will no longer labor with this secret shame.

Port of Call

Port of Call: A

Excellent Hong Kong drama based on a real murder case from 2008. Aaron Kwok was superb in this; he goes old, with grey hair and a mustache, and really vanishes into the role. It’s a tough part, full of damaged psyches grating against each other in an endless cycle. He plays it whimsical with a ton of pain showing right under the surface: comedy as defense mechanism.

The movie is set in seedy Hong Kong, where low-lives and desperate souls live. Occasionally we see glimpses of privilege and wealth. Christopher Doyle is the cinematographer, and he’s unsurprisingly perfect at showing us the contrast between those two places. It’s as if wealth was a source of light, and unwise phototropic souls reached out to it like a lifeline, only to find it was sterile. (Doyle always inspires me to clumsy light-based metaphors. Love his work.)

Other than Aaron Kwok making sad jokes which fail to dispel his pain, there’s very little humor in the movie. There are sequences of explicit death and violence. People are not nice to one another. It gets a lot of power from being unflinching.

The Ninja War of Torakage

The Ninja War of Torakage: B

This was the weirdest thing I saw at Fantasia. Underneath it all you’ll find a pretty standard historical ninja epic about Torakage, this poor guy who just wants to retire from ninjaing and raise a family, but there’s a lot of insanity between the surface of the movie and the core. I don’t know Yoshihiro Nishimura’s work but he’s a special effects/makeup dude who occasionally directs, I guess. This is perhaps obvious from the opening shot in which our protagonist cuts off a couple of heads and we center two spouting fountains of gore for a very long time.

Once we’ve gotten the sense that it’s going to be a reasonably violent action film, Nishimura proceeds to demonstrate that it’s going to be supremely weird by cutting to a Portugese scholar named Francisco who narrates the premise of the movie with the help of shadow puppets. Visually awesome, by the by, once you get over the Japanese actor in Euroface. Francisco shows up to explain the movie all the time, although he doesn’t explain any of the weird stuff.

Other awesome things: the weird creature with wings made of hands and eyes everywhere; the bamboo mecha; the way Torakage’s wife Tsukikage also kicks ass; the Greek chorus in jars. I appreciated this one a lot.

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween: B+

This review is maybe a bit of a placeholder; I did not take notes during the movie and I’d like to come back to it when I can find some better data on who directed what. For now, I will note that this was a totally fun horror anthology with ten segments. They’re very loosely linked insofar as they all take place in one town during Halloween. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a place you’d want to live. Neil Marshall’s closing segment ties together some of the other bits, but otherwise they’re just related by theme and locale.

If I had to bet, I’d say one of the thematic elements the creators decided to work with was revenge. There’s a lot of that going on. Also trick or treating, which is kind of a gimmie for Halloween. Also gore — this is probably going to win my personal Best Gore award for Fantasia — but that’s just because it’s a total love letter to 80s horror.

Which, let me tell you, this movie wears its heart on its sleeve. Lots of horror character actors you’ll recognize, a couple of even more amusing cameos, and so on. The Neil Marshall segment plays like a John Carpenter tribute in the most loving of ways.

I think this will roll into theaters around Halloween this year and if you like gory horror you should see it.

Full Strike

Full Strike: B

This was pretty much OK. Very broad Hong Kong sports comedy with all the usual bits. There’s a drunken master, there’s an evil magistrate, there’s familial tension, and so on. Oh, and a random alien who lands in a UFO that looks like a badminton shuttlecock. Don’t pay too much attention to him, since he’s not actually part of the movie.

Right — the sport is badminton. Serious business! The producer, Andrew Ooi, introduced the movie and explained that they’re all big fans of badminton so why not make a movie about it? Fair enough.

Josie Ho was a standout; her transitions from washed up ex-champion to fierce competitor were a nice bit of acting. That’s the extra effort that you don’t always see in a farce.


Jeruzalem: D.

This was a lot of wasted potential. You’ve got a promising if somewhat goofy presence — American backpackers trapped in Jerusalem during the apocalypse. The found footage twist is pretty good: everything’s being filmed on Google Glass by Sarah, our viewpoint character. It’s a nice way to explain why she doesn’t just drop the camera and run away, plus the Paz brothers added some really clever moments around facial recognition and other wearable features.

Unfortunately the acting was really, really bad. I’m not going to pick on anyone in particular, because everyone was fairly wooden. If you’re doing helpless Americans abroad, you’ve got to have sympathetic characters and none of the main foursome was up to that task.

The writing didn’t help. Towards the beginning of the movie there’s an excellent chase scene which uses the Glass conceit to full advantage. You get disoriented right along with Sarah as she runs, you get a real feel for her lack of perspective, and it’s easy to understand how she gets lost in the warren of back alleys. Excellent stuff. It’s undermined by the ceaseless repetition of “hey, stop, hey, you, stop, hey, come back, hey, stop!” It’s as if the filmmakers were afraid of silence.

I could go on. The prelude, which is not presented as found footage, winds up being played for Sarah later. So if you’re going to present it within the found footage context anyway, why start the movie outside the frame? Hold it for later, don’t repeat it, and as a bonus you get to save your demon reveal rather than giving it up in the first five minutes.

Whoops, I went on. Done now. Don’t watch this on cable if you happen to trip over it some day.

Apple Music

I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, so obviously.

In the interests of testing the scope of music available, I travelled back to the best music critic on the Internet, glenn mcdonald. His final formal music review post is an eloquent exploration of the best music of 2012, ranging from Taylor Swift to European avant garde death metal. It finishes up with a Ylvis song, years before you wondered what the fox says. Bona fides enough.

He has 123 songs on his list. At the time, he constructed playlists on both Spotify and Rdio. Spotify had 93 songs; Rdio had 94. My Apple Music playlist has 96. Pretty much no difference.

It’s seven hours of great music, by the by.