Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Feature in Majesteit

Majesteit Katten Magazine
Majesteit Magazine

My other blog Traveling Cats has a double spread in the Dutch cat magazine Majesteit this summer. I also talk about my upcoming book on my cat Avalon.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brussels Film Festival - Bird People, Miss Violence, and The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq

Film Festival Brussels

After attending the film festivals Offscreen, BIFFF and Cannes earlier this year, I had the chance to be invited to the Brussels Film Festival which specializes in European cinema. Usually, when I go to a festival, I try to indulge it completely, seeing as many films as possible. Things have been so crazy around here lately that I had to slow down a bit on the movies this time. Actually, I spent most of my time at the festival hiding away in the quiet corners of the Flagey cinema to get some writing done.

On my first day at the Brussels Film Festival I watched Miss Violence. I was looking forward to this Greek film since it was awarded the Silver Lion for best direction in Venice, but it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. Miss Violence was the kind of film where everyone did a lot of staring and where silences lasted long enough to make you check your watch. Only in the last section of the film, once the family secrets were revealed, did the pacing pick up and did the movie become somewhat interesting.

Miss Violence
Miss Violence

Next on the program was the French film The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq (L'enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq). In case you wouldn't know, Michel Houellebecq is a famous French author known for his wayward style and personality. In this film, in which he plays himself, he's abducted by gangsters. Hellbent on receiving the best possible treatment, Houellebecq starts asking for little favors such as a lighter, a book, better wine, and a woman to spend the night with. And, of course, he gets what he wants, because his kidnappers are too star-struck to deny him these favors. The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq definitely bears the mark of the author's wit and style. And while the film may not be as brilliant as his books, it was definitely original and laugh-out-loud funny.

L'enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq
L'enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq

On my second day at the Brussels Film Festival, I went to see the French film Bird People. A guest and a roommaid at an airport hotel dream of freedom, of leaving behind their current lives. Both will get that freedom in their very own way. Despite a few misses (such as an unnecessary and irritating voice over that luckily lasts only a minute or two), I found Bird People to be irrisistable, especially its honesty, fleshed-out characters, recognizable dialogue, and weird but cute ending.

Bird People
Bird People

I also managed to watch a batch of short films at the festival. The first one was Lilith from Maxim Stollenwerk. I met Maxim at Offscreen, and his dedication to the craft made me curious about his films. That devotedness shows. For a guy who's still in school, Lilith is professional and polished, showing signs of a profound cinematic knowledge. If he can pull off this level of quality with so little experience, I can only imagine how excellent his future films will be.

Albertine, from my friend Alexis Van Stratum, is about an 81-year-old woman who's isolation after her husband's death is shambled when a neighbor offers to help her with a broken lamp. As always, Alexis' short film is recognizable, classy and beautiful. Why this guy isn't a household name yet is a mystery.

Albertine Alexis Van Stratum
Albertine Alexis Van Stratum

Other shorts I saw at the Brussels Film Festival were: Cadet from Kevin Meul (interesting story in which a father pushes his 13-year-old son to be the best in his sport, but instead brings out the worst in him), Les corps étrangers from Laura Wandel (not sure what point the director wanted to get across), José from David Mutzenmacher, Alexandre Bouchet and Gaetan Liekens (I'm sure the three directors had as much fun making this film as the audience did watching it), and De Honger from Benoit De Clerck (visually stunning).

Next up: Festival Européen du Film Fantastique de Strasbourg (France), Sitges Film Festival (Spain), and Razor Reel (Belgium).

Les corps étrangers
De Honger Benoît De Clerck

Friday, August 1, 2014

Reading / watching / listening to...

YA Books To Read This Summer


* Miss Mabel's School For Girls by Katie Cross. Set in a school for witches, Miss Mabel’s School For Girls combines the vibes of Harry Potter, Suspiria, and American Horror Story 3: Coven, but sets itself apart thanks to the creativity of the writing. Katie Cross never goes for obvious words or descriptions, but is always on the lookout for a more challenging way to bring her story to life. A treat if you’re into Ya, magic and witches.

* The World Of Wanderlust Story and How To Create A Successful Blog by Brooke Saward. You know Brooke Saward from her successful travel blog World Of Wanderlust, right? As the title suggests, The World Of Wanderlust Story is about how Brooke started traveling solo, first as a normal tourist and later as a professional for World Of Wanderlust. Very little about it is revelatory, but as it’s a fast read, written in an engaging style, The World Of Wanderlust Story got my interest all the way through. I definitely wanted to read her other writings, so that's exactly what I did. How To Create A Successful Blog fell behind information-wise, though. I hoped to discover the secrets on how Brooke Saward made her blog as successful as it is, but I already knew her techniques and thought she could have explained them more in-depth. That being said, How To Create A Successful Blog is an excellent step-by-step guide for starters, but there's so much more to know about blogging that I wouldn't recommend this as your sole read.

* Cath et son chat by Christophe Cazenove and Hervé Richez. This French comic was one of my birthday presents. It's a collection of funny and recognizable anecdotes featuring a young girl and her cat. Both adults and kids will love it.

* Cats Are Weird and Other Observations by Jeffrey Brown is comparable to Cath et son chat, though children might find its style and humor difficult to comprehend . It's part of a series of books of which I already reviewed Cat Getting Out Of A Bag in my Reading / Watching / Listening to-post of May 2013.

* Heads In Beds: Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. Since I’ve read this tale about a man’s career in the hotel industry, I’ve already mentioned quite a lot of anecdotes from this book to friends. Yet, I can’t fully recommend Heads In Beds, mainly because Jacob Tomsky’s style oozes pretentiousness. He bashes about how much money he made and how easy it was to fool customers and such things. I couldn’t finish Heads In Beds for this reason alone.


* Night School (Terror Eyes). I watched Night School at the Cinematek in Brussels during a double bill on 80s serial killer movies. The story is highly predictable, but the forceful opening scene, giallo atmosphere, and mounting suspense are such huge fun they make up for that predictability in a big way.

* Fear City. Abel Ferrara is a master in portraying the gloomy sides of New York, but apart from that, this segment of the 80s serial killer double bill was an unhandy genre mix that gets very little right. Special mention goes to the murderer who, by continually showing off his karate techniques, becomes one of the most ridiculous in serial killer history.

* Kiki's Delivery Service. Such a sweet Ghibli movie. The main character, a child witch, is so cute it's hard not to be glued to the screen. Add to this the cozy German-like homes and the witch's talkative black cat, and you almost forget that the film misses punch. Do not confuse with the inferior live-action remake that I watched at Cannes this year.

* Next To Her. This new Israeli movie involving a young woman in charge of her mentally disabled sister has so many merits I couldn’t possibly mention them all. Dana Ivgy, who plays the sister in need, is so outstanding that I had to google if she was mentally challenged in real life or not (she isn’t). Based on the real-life relationship between lead actress/co-writer Liron Ben-Shlush and her sister, Next To Her is the most precise portrayal of a mental disorder I’ve seen in a long time. So much hard truth is uncovered here, such as how tiresome it is to take care of someone in need of constant supervision, how caring can become compulsive, and how worrying too much can lead to wrong decisions that endanger everyone's well being. I had a hard time getting into Next To Her because it was so depressing, but thanks to its realism and emotional honesty, I became completely absorbed. I not only cried during the punch-in-the-gut ending, but even on my way back home.

* Tess. I read Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles in my early twenties and absolutely loved the negative spiral the main character was in. This element is precisely what I preferred about Roman Polanski’s adaptation as well. But there's so much more to Tess than that. The most impressive was the cinematography and set design as every single shot looked like a painting. All the actors were particularly admirable, especially Nastassia Kinski. Also, the movie is very much representative of the book, and there’s a good reason for that: Hardy’s novel was the last one Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate read and loved just before she got murdered, and Tess was his way of paying homage to his late wife.

* Zombie Holocaust. This Italian cannibal/zombie movie from the eighties has plenty of fake-looking special effects, bad acting, and lazy dialogue. But it does a lot right in terms of entertainment value, hence the reason of my second viewing. Fun fact: try and watch Zombie Holocaust and Zombie Flesh Eaters one right after the other if you're in the mood; you'll realize how similar they are.

* How To Train Your Dragon 2. You’ve probably seen the trailer, so you already know the main reason why you should watch his film: dragons. They’re probably too cute for your own good, so be prepared.

* The Fault In Our Stars. I loved the book. There’s just no denying it’s well-crafted and full of quotable lines. But when I watched the trailer, I expected nothing but mellowness from the movie adaptation. In fact, the only reason I gave it a try was because my sister would love it. And, yes, The Fault In Our Stars was everything I feared it would be: mellifluous and teenage. Yet, I left the theater with a broad smile. Despite my prejudice and its confirmation, I have to admit that The Fault In Our Stars works and that it gives a whole new meaning to the term 'feel good movie'.

* Lost After Dark. When I saw the eye-catching movie poster for Lost After Dark at the Cannes film market, I immediately wondered if this might be a vintage slasher film I hadn’t heard of. Nope. Just a modern movie imitating the feel of a good old eighties horror. The poster, however, is by far the best part of the film. While Lost After Dark doesn’t come out completely bruised (we do get the feeling of an eighties horror flick thanks to the use of filters), it would have benefited from a creepier killer and worthier death scenes.

* Ping Pong Summer. In contrast, another film that attempts to imitate the eighties, Ping Pong Summer, succeeds far better in portraying this era. The nostalgia-factor is pretty high thanks to lots of recognizable props. While Ping Pong Summer is ultimately too easy to fully recommend, I was charmed by its intentions and, in the end, the parts the film gets right linger longer than those it doesn’t, making it a charming and unique portrait of teenagers in the eighties.

* The Legend Of Billy Jean. How could I not have heard about this eighties gem before? This virtually unknown movie about a good-natured teenage girl (Helen Slater) who becomes an outlaw martyr with her brother (Christian Slater) and friends, is like a Thelma Louise for teenagers, topped with an enormous amount of feel-good sparkles.

* The Other Woman. There's some potential in this story about a cheated-on wife who befriends her husband's mistresses, but Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann are so hysterical it's impossible to sit through The Other Woman without sighing.

* Jennifer (The Snake Goddess). This was already the third time I watched this horror film and there's a good reason for that. For a copycat of Carrie (which came out two years before and also deals with a girl being bullied in school), this was actually surprisingly fun, the main point of value being the ending in which Jennifer uses her paranormal talents to manifest giant snakes that attack her schoolmates. Definitely worth a watch if you love vintage horror and don't mind bad special effects and cheesy acting.

* Once Upon A Hit Girl (short film). Lots of gorgeous kickass hit girls and Tarantino-esque scenes. Lots of horrible actors, too.

* Août 1914 (short film). Août 1914 was everything a short film should be: smart, touching, surprising, and beautiful. It's a true story about a boy who tries to save his dog from the war and the absurd events that happened because of this.

Listening to: 

* Various songs by Georgio Valentino. I met Georgio Valentino earlier this year at a press conference and was immediately curious about his music that he described as weird and inaccessible. With a voice like Bowie and tunes reminiscent of Calexico and Friends Of Dean Martinez, Georgio Valentino got my interest from the very first second. I can imagine this being the perfect background music for a road trip. He just released a new vinyl record if you're interested: Mille Morceaux.

* Kill For Love by Chromatics. It took me a while to get into the new Chromatics album (you probably know them from the Drive soundtrack), but because my boyfriend has been playing this silly, I got used to it and now I even like Kill For Love.

* Nearly everything by Max Richter. This has been my go-to music whilst writing my latest screenplay as most songs mingle perfectly with the emotion of the script.

If you're looking for more to read, watch, and listen to, you can check out my old "Reading / Watching / Listening to..." posts.