Mixed media, Sunday 25 November 2018

Overlord movie poster

Films:

  • Overlord Alex took me to see this in the 4DX screen of Pathé de Munt. The ads I’ve seen for 4DX make it look a bit gimmicky, and as we entered the cinema I thought the seats would look more at home in a roller coaster. They felt more like firm roller coaster seats. They’re not plush. But the experience they added to the film was undeniable. Overlord’s opening scenes are big and noisy, with soldiers being thrown around inside a plane getting shot down over France in the hours leading up to the D-Day invasion. The 4DX chairs shake you about quite frantically, you get hit in the face by blasts from the wind machine, and occasional sprays of water mist. It’s intense. For a film like this, whose horror/action beats come at you like the slow build ups and exhilarating releases of a rollercoaster, it worked exceptionally well. The film itself is solid, too. It takes the the “nazis + zombies” premise and runs with it, but not into over-the-top ridiculousness. Alex and I both loved it.
  • Cleaner (2007) Not bad, just forgettable.
  • 🤔 The Negotiator (a.k.a. Beirut) In the middle of the Lebanese civil war, the CIA drags former diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) back to Beirut to help them negotiate the release of an old friend. Or is that really what they want to happen? This is a cleverly plotted espionage/diplomacy thriller, but the use of Lebanon as scenery felt somewhat exploitative.
  • Ocean’s 8 Not bad, just forgettable.
  • Los Cronocrimenes (Timecrimes) Simple but effective time travel thriller about an ordinary middle-aged man who stumbles into an extraordinary situation, and then makes some really questionable choices. There’s no clever twist to time travel here — it’s just very effectively executed.
  • Scenes from a Dry City Short and powerful documentary about drought conditions in Cape Town.
  • Soyalism Pulls together many strands about how vertical integration of agribusiness is affecting the planet and our food supply. Thought-provoking, not preachy.

TV:

  • Secret City Excellent Australian political/journalistic/espionage mystery with Anna Torv in the lead as political investigative reporter Harriet Dunkley. If you like the Worricker series (Page 8 et al.) and London Spy, you’ll love this. Lots of twists and turns. Lots of political manoeuvring and backstabbing. Lots of reporters doggedly chasing down leads, cultivating sources, and willing do do anything to expose corruption with their story.
  • Maniac Quirky retro-futuristic drama with Emma Stone and Jonah Hill signing up for a drug trial run by an unscrupulous corporation and some very strange scientists. I’m still not sure what kind of story it was trying to tell (other than illuminating the human condition), but if you’re willing to just enjoy it for the mind-bending ride, full of offbeat performances and bizarre visual gags, it’s quite fun. Makes me want to go and check out Cary Joji Fukunaga’s other stuff (specifically True Detective).

Music:

Malcolm Middleton has a new album out: Bananas. It’s good.

Leeuwarden

Looking up at the underside of a fairground thrill ride, with people's feet sticking out

Abi and I took a wee break in Leeuwarden (Ljouwert, Liwadden, City of 100 Names, European Capital of Culture 2018) over the weekend of 10/11 November. We drove north and over the Afsluitdijk on Friday evening, and we stayed two nights at the Van Ver Valk Hotel Hardegarijp, in the village of Hurdegaryp (part of gemeente Tytsjerksteradiel). Frisian spelling and place names are quite different from those in the area around Amsterdam.

On Saturday we went in to Leeuwarden city in the morning, parked near Hoeksterend, and walked into the centre. It was around 11:00, but the city still felt very quiet. It woke up as we got closer to the centre.

Young folks standing around and looking at their phones in Leeuwarden

We didn’t have any particular plans, but I had noticed that there was a branch of Kamera Express somewhere in town, and we happened to bump into it on our walk. I had been hoping we’d pass it, because I wanted to show Abi the Think Tank camera bags I’ve been lusting after. Kamera Express had a special offer on Retrospective (v1) series, and Abi decided to buy me an early birthday present in the form of a gorgeous Retrospective 7 bag. It’s amazing. It has pockets everywhere, and smart movable internal dividers that give it rigidity and allow you to customize it to fit your particular gear.

Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag

The Troop London bag I bought four years ago was nice — I do love a canvas messenger bag — but it didn’t last very well. When I bought my Spikes and Sparrow leather bag a couple of years ago I thought it would replace this one completely. Turns out I have space in my life for more than one bag, though. I like keeping my leather bad mostly packed and ready for my UK trips, so all I have to do is drop my laptop in and go. The Troop bag is smaller, and I’ve kept it around for casual everyday use. But its seams are disintegrating. It’s time for it to retire to a bag farm upstate.

Disintegrating Troop London canvas messenger bag

We had lunch at a cafe near the station. In the afternoon we visited an exhibit of Jorrit van de Waal’s Mechanimal Life. We saw his dachshunds, heron, bumblebee, and tarsier. The pieces were playful and delightful. Unfortunately the art centre was suffering from a power cut, so we didn’t get to see the animals in motion – the dachshunds wagging their tails, for example:

Jorrit van de Waal's text for his Dachshund

After that we walked to the giant Recycle Boulevard second-hand store. We didn’t buy anything but were impressed by the experience! It’s enormous, and arranged more like an Ikea than a classic charity shop or jumble store. Second-hand stores are gaining popularity here.

Towards the end of the day we stopped at the Bagels & Beans for a hot drink and a bagel. We also got a couple of bagels to take back to the hotel with us for evening snacking. We’d had dinner in the hotel the night before (a very nice spinach lasagne for me), but we didn’t feel like another big sit-down meal that day. We drove back and had a quiet evening lying in our room, reading and grazing.

The next day we had breakfast and plotted a leisurely route home through Friesland and Flevoland. We stopped in Hindeloopen for a walk around, and then in Urk for lunch. (Urk turned out to be almost entirely closed, apart from one restaurant.) Hindeloopen has a beautiful new copper, steel, wood, and stone fountain its centre, “Flora and Fauna” by Chinese artist Shen Yuan. A giant set of stag’s antlers enclose a gnarled tree, with exotic birds sitting on its branches. I couldn’t do it justice with my photos, but I loved it.

Men walking on the sea dyke at Hindeloopen

Two bikes on their side

As we were driving into Hindeloopen, we saw what we thought was an upside-down house. We drove the same road on our way back, and we stopped to take a closer look at what is indeed an upside-down house. The architects took the shape of a traditional Frisian farm house and imagined what it would be like if the pointy end at the base instead of at the top. It looks really weird, but I’m sure it will be amazing when it’s finished. (It’s right next to the Hindeloopen train stop, if you want a peek.)

Upside-down house

Right at the end of our drive back, we stopped in at McDonalds IJdoornlaan and tried their new vegetarian “chicken” burger. It was remarkably decent! It certainly answers the question “what will I eat if everyone else fancies McD?”

Abi on the beach at Urk

Abi on the beach at Urk

Abi on the beach at Urk

Mary Catherine Bateson on feedback

I hadn’t really (business/work) performance related feedback to systems control and cybernetics before, but this interview with Mary Catherine Bateson made me think a lot. (Via Lot2046)

I would say that the great majority of Americans still believe that “positive feedback” is when someone pats you on the back and says you did a good job. What positive feedback is saying is, do more of the same. So, if what you’re doing is taking heroin or quarreling with your neighbor, this is just going to lead to trouble. Negative feedback corrects what you’re doing. It’s not somebody saying, “That was a lousy speech.” It’s somebody saying, “Reverse course. Stop building more bombs. Stop taking in more alcohol faster. Slow down.” Negative feedback is corrective feedback.

Japanese pop

Although I haven’t watched the film yet, I have listened to quite a bit of the soundtrack to the film Your Name by Japanese band RADWIMPS. In particular, the uptempo lead song Zenzenzense stuck with me, and was one of my favourite tracks of last year:

Perhaps because of this, Spotify has regularly been suggesting Japanese pop music to me in my weekly discover playlists. And I don’t remember where I came across it, but a couple of weeks ago I came across an article on Pitchfork about Neo-Kawaii band Chai, and I started listening to them:

Their album Pink is fantastic. (My favourite tracks right now are “Fried” and “Walking Star”.) Since then, I’ve basically fallen down a rabbit hole of Japanese pop, and it’s amazing. I have no idea what they’re singing, but when I listen to music I rarely listen to lyrics anyway. To me, the human voice is mostly an instrument — possibly the most versatile instrument of all. Not being able to understand the words can sometimes actually be a benefit for me, because the words don’t distract me if I’m doing work on something that requires verbal reasoning, like reading or writing a document.

So here are some of my favourites that I’ve been listening to recently.

I love this song and the video for it by FRIENDS, “Dance in the night”. Something about it reminds me of (sadly disbanded) Los Angeles group Big Moves

“In Our Life Steps” by NEIGHBORS COMPLAIN is deliciously funky:

New track “Dancing Fighter” by AWESOME CITY CLUB is bouncy and catchy:

“Lonely Lonely” by LUCKY TAPES is right up my street with its sweet and soulful hip-hop groove:

“New Era” by Nulbarich sounds like a mellow funky cross between Maroon 5 and CeeLo Green:

“Yumewomiyou” by HARU NEMURI is driving, hypnotic, and intense:

So I’m all about the J-pop right now.

Mixed media, Wednesday 31 October 2018

Cover of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Books:

  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Remarkable book! Although it’s ostensibly about checklists, it’s actually about the benefits of (and outright need for) cross-functional teamwork in highly industries with high degrees of specialisation, such as construction, air travel, and medicine. Although he doesn’t talk about the software industry, I feel like all the lessons apply there as well.
  • Shirtless Bear-Fighter by Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner, Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer. Silly, over-the-top, fun.
  • 💩 Time Travel – A History by James Gleick. I have liked James Gleick’s other books, but this is garbage. It reads like an essay by a pretentious literature student who hates science fiction nevertheless trying to impress their teacher with their erudition. I couldn’t finish it.
  • The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker: it’s a book about a writer suffering from writer’s block, who decides to write a book about a writer who suffered from writer’s block. In some ways it is incredibly clichéd, but it finds its feet and turns into a carefully plotted and intricately revealed murder mystery set in a close-knit rural community. It reminded me quite a bit of the first season of Broadchurch. Some of the dialogue reads like the author has never had a conversation with other actual humans, which can undercut the serious treatment of some horrible events. But overall, an engrossing read.
  • The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross. The latest episode of the Laundry Files series sees Britain under the rule of an elder god who has taken over as prime minister, and who demands a covert intelligence operation against the American supernatural security services who have made the entire country forget about the concept of “the president”. It’s a fast-moving eldritch spy thriller, and although I miss Bob Howard as a character, I reckon this might be the best book in the series so far.

Films:

  • 🤔 The Death of Stalin: Not what I had been expecting. It’s a comedy, yes, but a very black one. It gave me the impression that it was trying to be an exaggerated version of the truth rather than an “inspired by actual events” retelling. It felt like I would have appreciated it more if I had been more familiar with the historical period.
  • A Simple Favor I talked about this in a previous post. It’s a film that keeps you guessing whether it’s a comedy or a thriller or both. We saw it without even having watched a trailer, which was great. So many trailers these days give you 2/3rds of the film right there.
  • Mr Right Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick doing the kind of roles they do best. Rockwell does suave, sly, tough on the outside but vulnerable on the inside. Kendrick does calm, pretty, and timid on the outside, but wild and adventurous on the inside. He’s a former hit man who now kills the people who try to hire him. She’s the woman who crosses his path and he falls in love with, and who turns out to have an innate talent for his line of work. It’s simple and funny, sweetly murderous.
  • Coco Beautifully animated, sweet, a little predictable. Not as emotionally triggering as I had feared.
  • Halloween (2018) Simple and effective classic slasher thriller. Great music, tight script. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but it totally works.

TV:

London Spy cover art

  • London Spy Slow, meticulous queer relationship drama that inhabits some of the trappings of a spy thriller. Brilliant, touching and tense.
  • How To Get Away With Murder Series 1: ridiculous but hugely entertaining legal drama with sexy young legal students doing sexy law stuff and a whodunnit mystery running playing out over the course of the show’s 15 episodes. Series 2: wait, you’re going to do exactly the same thing again? I’m out.
  • Community Alex, Fiona, and I have been working our way through this. We’ve finished season 2, and have got S3 queued up. We’re loving it.
  • Daredevil season 3: As in previous seasons, Matt Murdock is a plonker, and all the interesting story lines and character development happen to the secondary characters. Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk remains utterly magnetic to watch.

Podcasts:

I adored Avery Trufelman’s ⭐ Articles of Interest mini-series in the 99% Invisible feed, about clothes. I’ve also been looking forward to new episodes of the Slate podcasts Hit Parade by Chris Molanphy (stories about songs and artists and their path through the music charts) and Decoder Ring by Willa Paskin. The latest episode about the Ong’s Hat conspiracy theory and the Incunabula Papers is particularly good. If you’re in the habit of skipping adverts during podcasts, don’t do that for this one.