Aug 312009
 

The annual Rakkautta & Anarkiaa film festival kicks off in a couple of weeks’ time.

The actual program is not out yet, but the 20+ page advertisement is.

On a cursory glance (the time it takes for a bus to reach Haaga) this year the pickings are not as good as last year, but there are many worthwhile movies offered.

Many of the mainstreamiest entries end up in regular distribution soon after the festival, but for the likes of John Woo’s Red Cliffs and Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker a tour of the finnish cinemas is by no means a certainty.

Aug 312009
 

NyhavnOnce again, the trip in an easily consumable form.

  • Kilometers walked: Many, once again forgot the pedometer home (a tradition of the 2009 trips, definitely).
  • Photographs taken: 307.
  • Books bought: Nine, including four graphic novels, a game supplement and a printed catalogue of all Don Rosa material published in Denmark.
  • Media bought: None (couldn’t find the new Mew album in the only record store discovered).
  • T-shirts bought: Two.
  • Caches found: Two.
  • Countrymen encountered: Quite a few.
  • Moments of almost understanding what someone says: A few.
  • Moments of not understanding a thing: Most of the rest.
  • Minutes of television watched: None.
  • Cats/dogs seen: 1/many.
  • Financial confusion caused by the non-euro money: Not much.
  • Local beers sampled: Some, including one brewed using green tea.
  • Takeaway beers: None (though the concept itself is great).
  • Money left in the wallet at the exit gate in Kastrup: No crowns at all.
  • Aiming to come back: Definitely.
  • Could I live in Copenhagen: Probably, though the language would remain a problem for a good while.
Aug 312009
 

Statue of H.C. AndersenThe checkout practices of DGI Byen turned out to be rather draconian. The longest extension to checkout time was one hour at a cost of 100DKK. Clearly not a good option on a day when the flight out is at half past five in the evening.

Hence dumped the luggage in the storage at the hotel and continued exploring.

Rosenborg castle was easily accessible with the S-train. It contained both fabulous treasures and the first cache of the trip. The former were numerous, large and festooned with jewels, proving that Denmark has a rich history behind it. The latter an easy pick off a neighboring wall.

The rest of the day was spent on a semi-random walkabout around the city. The harvest included the second cache (this time requiring actual work), and an australian-style lunch on the international street market. The train included a large finnish tent, but the attention was drawn elsewhere by the attractions of cheese, nuts and jam (pear/ginger – probably just the thing for gloomy November breakfasts).

A randomly encountered group of Brits proved why they are the most reviled of tourists across the continent. The noise and the swilling of beer are no big deal, but the random tossing of large firecrackers on a lazy sunday afternoon is something that hopefully brings karmic rewards in the form of a large dobermann at the first opportunity.

The trainride to Kastrup was as uneventful as they come. As was the checkin.

The weirdness started post-security. For some reason the local tax-free shop was unwilling to part with a five pack of Absolut sampler bottles on account of me “not flying outside EU”. No amount of trying to convince the saleswoman of my willingness to pay the taxes coerced her to complete the sale. A large collection of alcohol confiscated off other customers pretty much proved my point of once again finding something fishy in the land of the danes.

Spent the last crowns on a couple of books and an unexpectedly discovered issue of Death Ray on a very well-stocked WH Smiths.

Flew back in economy extra (the added cost was a non-issue, since the tickets were purchased with SAS points). The only noticeable difference was the actual availability of food. And possibly an inch or two of extra legroom. The latter is hard to prove, since the seating arrangement in front of the plane is odd anyway.

Aug 312009
 

StrædetFollowing a healthy-ish breakfast at the hotel, it was time to try out some cultural sights.

First up: the Nationalmuseet, almost next to the hotel. Browsed only the prehistorical and viking eras, even then the overload of artifacts was rather humbling. The museum is very well laid out, and the wares very variable – from ancient burial sites to actual treasures.

A quick nip into shops off Strøget took care of some suddenly arrived needs to purchase a Batman album and a laptop bag.

Then it was time for a quick lunch. A pølsvagn outside a largish bookstore served up the first sausage of the trip. Sadly the contents of the hot dog were not as bright red as the ads showed. Nonetheless, a fast and easy way to satisfy hunger ahead of the #1 attraction of the city, at least according to DK’s Top 10 Guide: a harbor cruise.

Little mermaidA DFDS cruiseboat took off, fully loaded, from the Nyhavn canal, and took us around the city. Amongst the sights were the Little Mermaid, the new Opera House, the awesomely designed Black Diamond (extension to the city library) and quite a few nice neighbourhoods. The very low bridges and almost non-existent shorelines probably were due to the ebb – otherwise the areas are due some flooding once the storms roll in from the North Sea.

Panorama on the water

Toast SkagenDinner was very danish. The Nyhavn 37 served plaice (punakampela in finnish), preceded by probably the finest toast skagen I’ve tasted thus far. The accompanying pint of Carlsberg’s dark lager and a very fine piece of chocolate cake for dessert rounded off an excellent meal.

Tivoli, reflections on waterOn the Saturday night the Tivoli was far more accessible than on the previous day. No queues whatsoever, and plenty of room to walk around. Sadly the himmelskibet, the highest carousel in the world, was unexpectedly out of order for the day. The amusement park showed its best sides in the dark – the area is packed with lights that come off perfectly after the sunset. Didn’t win anything in the arcades. Though punting frogs with a mallet off catapults was more than worth the price. Spotted only one pinball, last year’s Dark Knight was a pleasant game, with five balls to play and rather easy multiball modes to activate. Surprisingly, even though the park itself is open till midnight, it was impossible to obtain food after eleven o’. Even the neighboring Hard Rock Cafe had already closed out its kitchen.

Aug 302009
 

Friday was a day without much of a plan.

Following a substantial breakfast provided by the hotel (a change over quite a few previous trips) it was time to head back onto the Strøget pedestrian street.

Faraos CigarerThe first stop was a scheduled one, and actually a double-header. Faraos Cigarer is a shop divided into two – and visiting both was definitely on the agenda. The comics/paraphernalia-store was packed in comics in multiple languages, everything organized to perfection. Ended up picking up a brand-new deluxe edition of one of the greatest Batman stories ever told: Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. The game store didn’t have a very wide range of games, but the ones it supplied had an excellent selection of products. I bought a long-sold-out WFRP supplement Nights Dark Masters at the regular price. In addition to the games and miniatures, the store featured the largest selection of plastic weapons I’ve ever seen, and a huge collection of clothes and other LARP-equipment.

Following brief stops around the neighbourhood, it was time for a serendipitous discovery: Crumpler was located on the very next street to Faraos. As I’d been very happy with my purchase of Big Cheese in Berlin in April, it was time to see what was on offer here. Had a long chat with the owner of the shop, and definitely aim to be back to pick a proper case for the duo of Macbook Pros.

Archive IIThe first sightseeing-entity of the day was Rundetårn, the very first observatory built in Europe. The sloping stairless pathway up top was broken up by an offer to view a danish/japanese design exhibition. Resistance was indeed futile when the first object came up – a wheel-shaped bookshelf designed by David Garcia. Definitely one for a future edition of the HQ – definitely would not fit in the current lodgings. The view from the top was expectedly nice – in a flat city without skyscrapers the 35 meters of height bought quite a viewpoint, the roofs of the city visible all around, with a few church spires thrown in for good measure.

Copenhagen panorama

Had dinner in Mamma Rosa on Strøget. The pizzas were very good, but the service slow and haphazard. Being busy is no excuse for missing items, if that is the state of affairs every day.

Nyhavn, with its colorful buildings, was indeed pretty. And packed with restaurants a place to return to on a later day. The chill wind meant that a harbour cruise was better postponed as well.

Nyhavn

Tivoli-entranceThe evening plans of visiting Tivoli were scuttled by the sudden appearance of huge lines in front of all the entrances. A quick duck into the nearby Apollo Bryggeri and a discussion with rather inebriated locals brought forward the rationale: Tivoli featufred a gig by a very popular domestic hiphop-duo today. The grounds continued to be packed, so looking for entertainment took a rambling a detour through a bear-building shop, a t-shirt vendor and finally a safe haven in another brewery across the street. Too bad the tranquil setting was shattered by a visiting troubadour whose renditions of classic songs were both mistuned and loud. Clearly reason enough to call it a day.

Aug 302009
 

RainbowbikeSpent a long weekend in Copenhagen. I hadn’t stepped on danish soil in 27 years, and was quite unsure what to expect (yeah, the several SAS-transitions in Kastrup do not count as proper visits).

Took the 615 to Seutula for the first time in quite a while, and was quite impressed by the speed of the route. Even when it took a detour through Kartanonkoski, the metro+bus-combo was probably quite a bit faster than a direct cab-connection from Ruoholahti.

This was my first international flight off Terminal 1 in Helsinki. The shuffle that was completed in early August has clearly improved things. Check-in was smooth, and the security processing without any queues worth a mention.

Flew in steerage and got no food on the plane. The traditional tapas-meal in T2 took the edge off this. And this time I managed to note down the name of the excellent Chardonnay offered: Firestone, a Californian vineyard.

Kastrup was its reliable efficient self, and getting to town was easy with the trains that seem to run with a very respectable frequency.

The hotel, DGI Byen, which I had selected almost quite literally at the last moment turned out to be very close to the train station. Uncomfortably close when the noise levels from the neighboring train yard were considered when the windows were kept open. And for a long while they had to, since airconditioning was not part of the room. The hotel is a part of a bigger complex that features some things commonly associated with hotels (conference rooms, swimming pool) and some that are quite quite unusual (such as a bowling alley and a large communal sports complex).

Had a late dinner in Butterfly-restaurant at the very beginning of Strøget. The buffet ranged from sushi to mediterranean fare, and was an absolute steal at mere 89DKK. Had the first “didn’t understand a thing”-moment when trying to talk with the waitress. Doubtless many more will follow.

Aug 262009
 

Probably the second easiest way ever to participate in meaningful science – Galaxy Zoo challenges users to visually classify galaxies.

Unsurprisingly, the crowdsourced astronomy project has a very informative blog, and has generated close to a dozen papers during its two years of existence.

(The easiest way, I hear the laziest amongst the readers query; that’d be BOINC, where computers do all the work).

Aug 252009
 

Empire Strikes Back-posterThe second installment of Movie Monday challenges us to describe a science fiction movie.

My choice is Empire Strikes Back, the second part of the Star Wars-saga, and by far the best part of all six.

While the original Star Wars (or The New Hope, as the actual title goes) was yet another take of monomyth, a faery tale with the serial numbers filed off, the sequel was something completely different.

There was plenty of cool scenery, characters that were not exactly good or bad, multiple plotlines and actual drama. That’s right – this was not a movie where the white-hatted guys triumph over insurmountable odds in the end. No, quite the opposite – this was a film where the good guys lost. Unfairly. Quite a concept for a kid thoroughly used to the Hollywood norms.

Empire Strikes Back is by no means a perfect movie, the training scenes on Dagobah especially border on the annoying side. But no film that gives us one of the greatest plot twists ever, masses of AT-AT walkers in the snowlands of Hoth and the scarily effective bounty hunter Boba Fett can be considered anything but a classic.

Too bad the saga never reached the same lofty heights in later films. The introduction of Ewoks converted me to the Empire. And the less said about the collection of gaping plot holes (also known as the new trilogy), the better.

The obligatory trailer is attached here. The trailer is a fan-made one, and completely spoiler-laden.

Movie Monday #2: Science Fiction

Aug 232009
 

The Mist poster

Movie Monday (or actually Elokuvamaanantai) is a new finnish blog that challenges authors to craft a weekly movie-related page on a given theme.

The very first theme is “no theme”, so I’ll take the opportunity to continue raving about Frank Darabont’s third Stephen King film: The Mist (which I reviewed when the dvd-release was published).

The Mist is a Stephen King novella first published in Skeleton Crew collection. Frank Darabont renders it into film by staying quite true to the original.

The trappings of the tale are simple: a bunch of smalltowners are caught in a store when all connections to the outside world are suddenly severed by something inhumane, violent and lethal.

The film is based on an early eighties short story, and while the milieu has been changed to accommodate modern trappings such as cell phones, the Mist is ultimately grounded in the earlier, paranoid era. The special effects do not revel in constant CGI either, even though there’s plenty of creatures shown.

The casting, while good, did not net any A-listers onto the roll. Marcia Gay Harden’s famous take on religious fanaticism is the most referenced part of the movie – at times it feels a bit hollow, but most of the time she puts on a genuinely demented display of an apocalyptic prophet.

The novella ends on a vaguely upbeat note. In the film the ending is the most significant departure from the book. The last moments are deep in bleak desperation, a stark contrast from the usual Hollywood-fare.

The trailer, off Youtube, showcases the twin features of the movie: fear of the unknown that turns out to be all correct and the frightening ease that the fellow inmates turn the situation into a Lord of the Flies-scenario, where reason is amongst the very first victims.

The film is more of a supernatural thriller than a horror movie, but I’d give it a definite arachno/insecto-phobia alert, and also note that the bleak ending does not exactly make The Mist a 24-carat date movie.

The dvd-version gets a moral bonus point for the included director’s cut, a black & white take on the whole movie. The shades of gray turn the eponymous mist to an even greater menace, able to hide anything and everything, just outside the range of vision.

The Mist that has served as inspiration to one of the greatest video game franchises of the last decade: Valve’s Half-life saga gives the player a more active protagonist in a world where the windows to alternate dimensions have been opened.

Aug 232009
 

Flying fruits de mer on the Senate SquareStopped by Senaatintori on Friday to view the maritime show of Plasticiens Volants.

The helium-filled critters were indeed impressive and imposing. Especially the lobster was well-animated and pleasant to watch.

Having gone in on the Kauppatori side and exited through Kruununhaka, the hardships of fellow watchers as outlined in the Helsingin Sanomat fora went completely unseen.

The conditions were not optimal, and the quality of the images reflects this. A couple of snippets of video turned out better, and the best of the bunch is likely to land here.

Sea serpent's shadow on the wall