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Category: Culture

Nordic Museum

We hit the new location of the Nordic Museum in Ballard today. It’s been open a month or so. The space is great — a two story atrium themed after a fjord cuts down the long center of the building, with the permanent Nordic and Nordic America exhibits on either side connected by bridges. You’re crossing the Atlantic to get from one to another. The signage doesn’t go as deep as I’d like, particularly for the temporary contemporary Nordic art exhibition, but I still enjoyed myself a bunch.

The cafe is also very nice. Get the oatmeal raisin cookie.

Finally!

It’s about time we got a mass market pop culture version of the Jack Parsons story. Ridley Scott produces. Ben Wheatley directed an episode. This will cause me to buy CBS All Access; the trailer is everything.

Rupert Friend appears to be playing a fictionalized character, so I’m curious about that. Based on John Baxter, maybe? From a quick glance at IMDB I don’t see a lot of real historical figures, so maybe they’re fuzzing all the real names. Either way I cannot wait to start watching this.

More Books Than That

Susan and I visited a whole bunch of bookstores on Saturday. Seattle goes all out for Independent Bookstore Day — 19 participating indie bookstores run this program where you get a passport and get stamps at each participating store and if you get to all the stores in one day, you get 25% off purchases for the next year. Last year we missed it. This year it was a priority.

It involved two ferries, ten hours of driving, and a lot of cookbooks. This… is our story.

Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

This is a perfectly good movie about fighting giant monsters, even when judged on an absolute scale. There is a plot with an interesting twist. Steven S. DeKnight has a good feel for action; the fight scenes play out clearly, even the ones in the middle of dense urban centers. I never lost track of where the combatants were.

There are no characters really. I apologize to John Boyega for this but he really doesn’t have much to do. He’s kind of a bunch of swaggering dialogue and charisma draped on top of a mannequin. He does what he can with the role, it’s just not a convincing part.

Our leftover trio from Pacific Rim is the exception. They’re all fine.

The big flaw is that the jaegers and kaiju don’t have any personality either. This is a fatal flaw. In Pacific Rim, it was a huge deal that there was one three-pilot jaeger. It fought differently, the pilots had a different relationship, it was cool. There’s a three-pilot jaeger in Uprising, which gets no exposition. “Oh, that’s where they’re sticking the extra pilot.” Very unfortunate.

On the other hand you get a decent number of fights, which are well filmed and satisfying. The plot is good, as noted, and it sets up a third movie well. I am happy I saw it even if it reminded me that it took Guillermo del Toro to make such a goofy concept awesome the first time around.

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.