Netflix Fun: Department Q: Keeper of Lost Causes

Ever since the Dragon Tattoo made its mark on the world—no pun—there’s been an explosion of mystery books, movies, and TV shows from Scandinavia. I think I’ll call it EuroNoir, when you add in the new waves from Germany and France.

Great, another brooding damaged cop. He’s great with facts and conjecture, not so much with people. I’d make a sarcastic remark about that being new, but why bother?
The plot is both difficult and, ultimately, ingenious. It’s hard to believe there are people crazy enough to plot such an elaborate revenge after so many years, especially over something that happened as a child, but then this villain was clearly never in his right mind. On the other hand, he did have a clear view of what killed his parents, and I have to believe the cause of the crash could have been written better; even a little girl couldn’t have been so dumb, and how come she wasn’t wearing a seat belt?
As I will mention more below in the directing section, the opening scene, involving a shootout, was all kinds of wrong. The three cops deliberately do not wait for the backup they know is coming. Once inside they find a dead body and put away their weapons. I was actually shouting at the screen, “You haven’t cleared the building yet!” and a second later guess what happens.
There isn’t all that much that’s funny here, but at the same time it wasn’t nearly as dark as I thought it would be, especially considering the first part and the hostage situation.

There’s a big fail at the very beginning: the shootout is simply not well done, in that you can’t tell who gets shot—other than the bald guy—or where they come from. At first I thought it was the main character who caught the bullet in the head, but even had he survived that he didn’t have a scar after that. More to the point, I should not have had to wonder.
But props are deserved for the shots in the pressure chamber. It would be a pun to call it atmospheric, but even if the interior views were not done inside an actual chamber, they were appropriately claustrophobic.

Think Dr. House, if he was even more weary yet dogged.
Though the lead is good, probably the best performance goes to his assistant, Assad. Considering how the main character was at the beginning, it’s telling that by the end he and Assad are almost buddies—he even cracks a smile—especially after all the crap Assad has to put up with from him.
Another contender for best performance has to go to the victim, who stayed strong enough after three years of captivity and atmospheric pressure to shoot him the finger. It was hard to reconcile the character in the flashbacks where she’s a young vibrant politician to how she was by the time she was rescued, but she does a great job in showing the fortitude. It’s almost insane.
A special mention also goes to the actor playing the victim’s brother, a mentally impaired young man who then had to suffer through the added horror of seeing his sister abducted. There’s a moment where he goes from almost catatonia to screaming in horror that you can’t help but be amazed. . . once your heartbeat settles down.

As to be expected from this type of movie, it’s dark and brooding, showing parts of Copenhagen tourists don’t see. This is one of my favorite towns, and while I didn’t expect shots of the Nyhavn or the Little Mermaid, I didn’t recognize one single vista, not even in the establishing shots. Other than their brief trip to Sweden, you don’t see the beauty of Scandinavia.
But once resigned to that, it’s easier to make out individual choices. There are some shots, for example, that come right out of the horror genre. Almost as creepy are some of the establishing shots in the insane asylum, though the garden certainly looked cheery in the sunlight. Perhaps the most intriguing set was the basement office, with its labyrinth-like stacks of beige files; at times it looked like a sepia filter.

Right away the tone is set with the creepy atmospheric music accompanying the opening credits. Other than that there’s nothing to talk about, as I don’t remember hearing another note the whole way through. . . which is not to say there wasn’t any music, it simply didn’t penetrate my brain.

After a slow start the movie gets better and better, until by the end you’re rooting for them to find her. It helps that it stops being about the detective and his hangups—other than a few brushes with Assad—and narrows its focus to the mystery.


Travel Thursday Snapshot: Copenhagen Thermometer

Having been born and raised in Southern California, I reach for a hoodie when it gets into the 60s. Oddly enough, I like cool weather, as long as I’m warmly dressed. My hands and feet don’t like it, but my legs don’t mind, which is why often you’ll catch me wearing shorts with gloves. As long as my nose and ears can take it, and the wind isn’t so bad, I’m good to go even in the low 50s.
Of course I did some skiing in the local mountains, shot the Vancouver Winter Olympics—really wasn’t that cold—and most of all did Arctic training in the Marines, where I learned the secret to going to the bathroom in freezing weather: don’t. But that was with the highest tech gear available, and with all the running around I was actually sweating as long as the wind chill didn’t get through the balaclava. So I have been in cold weather before, even ridiculous stuff—I only lasted two hours on Antarctica, but that was partly due to the smell of the penguins—but am in no way used to it.
It was early November as I took the shuttle to LAX, wearing my heaviest jacket because it wouldn’t fit in my luggage. Of course it had to be 104 in the city of beautiful angels that day, but by the time I landed in London it was exactly half that, so I ended up needing the jacket and was glad I’d put up with the sweat to start.
A few weeks later I was in Copenhagen, fully enmeshed in the story A Ton of Redheads, which you will find earlier in this blog history. It was a rare evening alone, so for once I didn’t have a redhead telling me which club to head to. Instead I wandered from the center of town, where the train station was, though not taking the Stroget this time, as I knew it well by now. I’m sure my fantastic sense of direction kept me from getting too lost—could always grab a taxi back anyway—but all these years later I can’t remember just where I was when I stopped to take a photo of something most tourists probably didn’t notice.copen
If my math isn’t as bad as usual, that thermometer on the building had it in the low 40s, but that was early in the evening, and the night was just starting. Take a look at the little kid in the right foreground, blimped up like the Michelin Man, to tell you what his parents thought about the forecast. (I later went over to see what he’d found on the ground that was so interesting, but it must have moved on.) I do remember walking down that street, looking for anything that caught my eye like I do in Berlin or Zurich or many other places. Perhaps I wrote something down in my journal about it, but there’s nothing that comes to mind in my brain about anything I saw there, which means nothing bad happened either. As long as I kept walking I didn’t feel much cold, until my ears and nose couldn’t take it anymore. At a certain point, not having any fun, I said screw it and flagged down a taxi to my hotel, knowing I had a full day of redheaded fun to come once the sun came up. . . and warmed things up a bit.

Travel Thursday: Chillin’ Edition

Songs in my head today: “Hello,” by Schuyler Fisk, and “Anyway,” by Alicia Witt. What could they possibly have in common? Other than both being redhead actresses, of course. . .

Here’s my last tour of Scandinavian capitals. Time to chill out from this California early spring of heat. . . though its cloudy this morning.

Ever work for a boss so mean that when you say, “Please don’t send me to Scandinavia!” he chuckles evilly and immediately sends you there? Well, just so you know, I love Scandinavia, and I love to play poker with my former boss. . .
“Wouldn’t you rather be halfway around the world than stuck in your house?” the e-mail screamed. That would have been a lot more impressive if I hadn’t been in a hotel halfway around the world.
So, my second Scandinavian tour in three years, but last time was right in the middle of summer and this time it’s in the middle of fall, not blizzarding yet but definitely colder than I’d like.

Two days before I left, I ran into the Icelandic president here in LA. He told me to bring a heavy jacket. Gee, thanks for the advice. Though he did tell me Iceland didn’t need Daylight Savings, so it’s a 7 hour dif instead of 8.
It’s 40 degrees–help me! And raining. . .
The biggest deal to hit the island in a while was the Imagine Peace Tower, which was actually on a smaller island in the harbor: A beam of light radiating from a wishing well bearing the words “imagine peace” in 24 languages. They told me I was the first professional photographer not at the unveiling to shoot it, so another thing to put on the application to the hall of fame. Seriously though, it’s not at all different from the light at the top of Luxor in Las Vegas. It may stand for something special, but it doesn’t look like such a big deal. Just goes to show why Yoko Ono’s rep is well deserved. {No, I don’t have any idea what I mean by that either.}
Prices keep going up–last time the burger and fries combo at the Vitabar was about $4, now it’s $7.50. . . though that’s still less than at Mel’s at Hollywood and Highland. They tried to get me to eat something they call a gleym-mer-ey (which translates to “forget-me-not”–guess it looks like the flower), which is a blue cheese and garlic burger. They really don’t know me well. . . or if they do, were actually trying to kill me, since I’m allergic to garlic. So nice of them. . .
The most fun–to do, not to say–was the “Wonders of Snæfellsnes” tour–that’s a glacier, which Jules Verne used as the portal into the center of the earth in his famous book. Luckily we didn’t go downwards, but just in this small area there was black sand beaches, waterfalls, scenic coastlines, seals, and even a stop for lunch at an inn that did not serve fish, thankfully.
Back in town, I went to a handball game, which is a kinda cross between basketball and soccer, but much more exciting. Really wish I coulda played it in my athletic days, though of course not now; I think I could score a penalty, if my life depended on it, but that’s a long field for running. . . nah, I probably would have been a goalie here too. And I was happy to notice the female players used shorts much more akin to volleyball players, rather than basketball or soccer.
Also went to the Reykjavik Museum of Photography, where I was talking to the doorman while we waited a few minutes for the place to open, and when I told him I was a professional photographer, and I was in Iceland to work, he let me in free! So if you go there, give them some monetary love for me.

Fjords need sunlight for a good photo. Looks depressing when cloudy, and when it’s foggy it doesn’t look at all, despite the fall foliage that could rival New England. Did manage to visit this new archaeology dig, which included an exhibit of a Viking queen and princess from 1200 years ago–most fun I’ve had in Norway in a while. I don’t know why but Norway has always been my least favorite of the Scan countries; it couldn’t be the blondes. . .
Some years ago, after the military saw how long it took to get everything ready for the first gulf war, they had the bright idea of pre-positioning supplies in certain parts of the world, so they could get to the war zone quicker–all you had to do was fly in the troops, and the tanks and shit would be waiting for them. Anyhoo, one such place was this massive cave complex in Norway, and it’s still run by the same guys who were in charge back when I visited in uniform so many years ago, so I got a lot of photos I shouldn’t have. . . which is always the most fun, of course.
Don’t worry, I’m not telling the Harrison’s Fjord story again. . .
There’s a punk musician called Bitch Cassidy–gotta love it. . .

My first time in Copenhagen, I was walking through the Nyhavn, which is where they have canals and tall ships and basically looks like a less-dingy Amsterdam, when I saw a photo shoot going on, so of course I stopped to watch. Just as I was wondering where the model was going to change, she took off all her clothes and slipped on the next outfit. My seventeen-year-old pen wrote I LOVE DENMARK in huge letters in my journal.
And this time I’m the one who got to shoot there! So awesome. Then did my usual traditions of saying Hi to the Little Mermaid, having lunch under the statue of Hans Christian Anderson, and spending at least three hours at the Glyptotek, the local Getty museum (oops, actually spelled that Geddy at first; I was so looking forward to the Rush concert in Stockholm); remember to be quiet when you walk by Rodin’s The Thinker, because. . . well, he’s thinking, don’t bother him. And also as usual I strolled down the Stroget a few times and looked in at all the McDonald’s, but all the cuties I knew who worked there were gone, and I didn’t have time to meet the new ones. Also as usual when I’m in town, Tivoli was closed for the winter, but the theater was still in use, so I managed to catch the Four Seasons with one of my favorite violinists. With its fast-paced and frenetic passages, it might be the only classical piece that could serve as an opener for Rush.
The train from Copenhagen to Helsingør takes 44 minutes–love train schedules! But this time a friend drove me there instead and it took us all day, stopping in the countryside frequently while she pigged out on strawberries every time we stopped. Got there in time for a sunset shot of the castle, spooky. No ghosts came out in the shots, thankfully {for those of you who didn’t get that, Helsingør=Elsinore, as in Hamlet}. And check this out: In the old days the captain of every ship passing by had to state the value of ship’s cargo, with the tax calculated depending on the value of the cargo. The king had the right to buy the cargo for the price the ship’s captain stated, which kept the captains from stating prices that were too low. How smart is that?
Legoland is no longer of any interest, with there being one in Cali now. . . and since they opened a Lego store at the Copenhagen airport.
By the way, for those of you who know the story of “A Ton of Redheads”–wow, 15 years ago now!–I finally got my revenge on blonde Nikki who played that trick on me. But that’s a whole ‘nuther blog in itself. . .

So, name someone else in this whole wide world who goes to see a symphony and then two days later takes in a Rush show? Huh?
A relatively balmy 50 degrees for a high on the day of the concert, with clouds but no rain or snow. Not that it matters much with the indoor Rush show, but on the walk to the subway station and then the hotel it’s way too cold for this SoCal boy, so even though I’m sweating in the heavy jacket. . .
Just so you understand how funny this is, the arena where the Rush concert was held is referred to as the Ping-pong ball, golf ball, take your pick. It’s particularly a sight coming out of the subway; Stockholm is so beautiful that you definitely do not want to ride the subway during the day, but since it was night and the traffic was heavy. . .
I’m not going to write a huge blog on the concert like I did when I saw them at the Hollywood Bowl, just a few thoughts, like the fact they considered me a guru because I knew all the words. And despite seeing it thousands of times on the internet, I still loved the South Park Tom Sawyer intro; too bad most of the crowd had no idea.
Still, it was a bit of a weird concert. On the one hand, it was the same show I saw at the Hollywood Bowl, but it was also vastly different, being indoors and with a crowd that didn’t know all the lyrics and wasn’t screaming and standing the whole time. In a way it felt more like an intimate club show, though of course the screen and the lasers and the fire belie that. Still, I might say I enjoyed this more than at the Bowl.
Ok, some not Rush stuff. I have a relatively famous photo of a sunrise over Stockholm harbor, all gray and gloomy, with the tall ship/hostel on one side and a pair of swans in the middle. On the day I flew to Helsinki, I went out to take the shot again, to see how the skyline of south Stockholm has changed, and a couple of swans come cruising through again. There’s not way it could be the same ones a good ten years later, right?
And this time I did remember to climb to the top of the city hall tower to get some shots. I don’t know why I torture myself and go to all these towers and even rent planes and choppers when I damn well know I’m afraid of heights. Especially considering I got an attack of vertigo a couple of weeks before leaving. If there’s a psych reading this who will tell me more than “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” let me know what my problem is. {How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One. . . But it has to want to change.}
OK, what’s the deal with changing from daylight savings and not telling the tourists? Almost missed my flight.

Got to Helsinki on the last day of the book fair! Yay! As usual I bought enough books that I had to put them in a carton and take them to the post office to ship them home. They’ll take so long to get here I’ll forget all about them, of course.
Helsinki likes to say they’re the biggest city in the world without slums (though that may not be true for long), but at the same time there really isn’t much to see in town besides beautiful blondes (and some brunettes, and a few redheads. . .), so it’s always good to get out of town. Too cold to get on the water, instead I went for a drive into the countryside to see some more fall foliage while dodging mosquitoes with some of those aforementioned blondes. That’s when the fog isn’t rolling in. Oh well, I got the requisite shots of city hall and stuff.
Helsinki is cool in one way, though: transportation. Most of the town is white or gray, but the subway is bright orange–like Mexico City, only funkier–and the trams are green. These will probably end up being the best photos. The worst part was having to photograph the famous church carved out of rock; places like that give me the chills, both literally and figuratively.
And I am going to write a whole book on birthday traditions to go along with all the photos I took of a beautiful brunette friend’s birthday. Part of the festivities was going to the local equivalent of Staples Center–Hartwall Areena, though I don’t know if it’s named after a local company–for lunch. There was a Pizza Hut and some burger joints, but we went to the Golden Star Café (yes, in English). Unable to resist, I stopped at the ticket office and, yes, Rush was playing that night, the last date on their tour. Should I. . .?
Damn right I did. To think I was so happy after seeing them once. Wonder how that’s going to look on the expense account, though. . .
Quick note: on the first song of the second act, “Far Cry,” there’s a line that goes: “You can almost see the circuits blowing!” And on cue, the guitar amp blew. Awesome.
My last night in Helsinki I stayed awake and then caught the sunrise flight back to Reykjavik, where I slept during the day, woke up and went to dinner with a friend, then flew back to El Ay, so I’m not even close to jet lagged this time. Which also means I get back to the usual grind without any time to “readjust,” so next time I might skip all that and suffer through the jet lag anyway. . .