The White Book (of the Year)

Can I be honest? Up to December, things were looking quite bleak for a possible winner of Book of the Year 2017. It wasn’t because I’d read less: Goodreads, a site to keep track of your reading history, told me I’d read more than in most years of this decade. Still, not much jumped out – most books had been awarded three or four stars, so my taste hadn’t gone off either.

Before announcing the winner – not a real surprise given the picture on the left (yes, I found a way to add new pictures) or the title of this piece – let’s briefly mention the runners-up. The Familiar by Mark Z. Danielewski is a book project of 27 volumes (hopefully) and last year volumes 4 and 5 were released. To be honest, Hades wasn’t my favourite book in the series, but volume 5 (Redwood) reads a lot faster than youd’d expect from the 880 pages of each volume has. A reading experience with a unique look, the book is experimental in look and lay-out, The Familiar is not as tough a read as some might expect.

Honourable mention n°2 is It’s not me, it’s you by Stephanie Kate Strohm. Highly enjoyable! Student Avery Dennis has to do an oral history project about something that happened in modern history and interview some eyewitnesses. Avery has a peculiar pick: recently dumped by her boyfriend just before the prom, Avery decides to find out why she can’t keep her boyfriends (even though she’s usually the one to end the relationships). And so she decides that her project should be about her dating history. What makes Strohm’s book such fun, is the way it’s written: like a word per word account, a tapescript occasionally interrupted by an author’s note in italics (the author being Avery and not Ms. Strohm, as you clever readers would’ve understood without this bracketed addition, without any doubt). Sure, the plot is quite obvious (the prom problems will get solved and near the end Avery will understand that geeky friend who’s accompanying her all the time is boyfriend material), but it’s the way to the climax that makes It’s not me… such a nice read. Trouble is, when looking at the author’s biography, we found another novel written in the same style (of tapescripts with notes) and that made us enjoy this book just a bit less.

But once December reared its murky head, along came a book that did tick the buttons: four stars, but also somewhat different from the rest. And that is how Han Kang‘s The White Book earned the award of book of the year.

To begin with, it’s not easy to categorize the book. The texts look more like poems than a novel, but poems, they are not. Perhaps, the best description would be musings. A collection of musings. Which is how the book starts: the narrator lists a series of white things. Objects or events that she links to the colour white. From sugar cubes to the bandages wrapped around a newborn child.

Later in the book, we discover the baby connection is not that random and that the narrator tells the story of an older sister, who only spent a couple of hours on this planet and of her mother, who was desperate to keep the baby alive. Had it not been for the death of this infant and another baby that didn’t survive, she would never have been born, Kang tells us. And thus the book tells us of the fate of this older sister, while at the same time being a dialogue with the unlucky baby.

The White Book isn’t told chronologically and the story is occasionally interrupted by pictures (see left – picture by Connor). The musings are brief, often less than a page. And because the next story always begins on the right side of the book, there is a lot of white in the book. (Hence the link some people make with poetry.) And while that slows down your reading, it also makes you savour the text more. Makes you think about the colour white and the many associations.

Han Kang won the Booker Prize in 2016 with The Vegetarian. This book is quite different from that award-winning book or Human Acts, but that is what makes it stand out. We have read and bought a lot of literature, poetry and books about poetry, but we didn’t have a book like The White Book. Another gap filled and, because of that, another award given. Book of 2017 is Han Kang’s The white book.

And if you excuse us, we have lots of Black Mirror and movies to catch up on.

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Best of 2016: The Girls

It feels pretty weird to write a post like this for two reasons:

1. We can’t access the account any longer on the computer as the mail address used is now defunct. It’s also hard to log in without a password. The password can only be sent to the defunct mail and not the one we’re trying to use. WordPress doesn’t seem eager to help, so for now it’s writing on an iPad and not being able to use any pictures (unless it’s a picture we’ve already used). So yeah, just text and no pics… This blog seems to go retro. Happy 1995 everyone!

2. Yes, we’re fully aware that 2017 is almost over and it feels rather out of place to announce last year’s book of the year now, but hey, let’s just say 2017 was an abysmal year and we didn’t get round to writing reviews. Or almost anything else.

So yes, the best book of 2016? Emma Cline‘s The Girls. Bearing in mind it’s Cline’s debut (at the age of 25), the book was a phenomenal release. The book is about a young girl, aged 14, who wants to escape home and ends up being lured into a cult. Russell, the cult leader, is based on Charles Manson and this allows The Girls to analyse what it was like to be around such a cult while at the same time being kept at a distance when hell breaks loose. Evie, the book’s protagonist, notices how the cult starts decaying.

At the same time, it’s also a portrait of a girl who doesn’t belong anywhere – or that’s how she feels. It doesn’t help much that because of her vague link to the cult, she’s nowadays looked at as a fairground attraction. Present-day Evie is visited by a couple and their visit makes her feel ill at ease.

Better still, we’ve tested The Girls out on two people who don’t like reading and didn’t really look forward to reading a book of more than 300 pages. Both found it a great experience. So even if you’re not the most avid reader in town, have a look at this novel. As the Manson cult gets more in the news again (Manson himself died this year and pretty soon they will be some documentaries and films marking the 50th anniversary of the Tate murders), it’s nice to read something that in a way is topical, good and not sensationalist.

Even though this review could’ve been posted 12 months ago, we still felt the need to publish it before moving on. That in itself tells you something about the quality of the book, no?

Great moments in cinema: Karate Girl

You may remember our occasional series “Great moments in cinema” where we showcase movie you may not catch on tv any day soon and the scenes that are mostly responsible for that. It looks like our archive is missing a couple of older editions and we really should do something about that, but today we’ll focus on a brand new edition. And by ‘new’, we mean a Turkish movie from 1974.

We’ve seen bits of this scene before, but we’re proud – we’ll have to redefine ‘proud’ – to show you the full-length scene. And an intro to boost… our Karate Girl is beating up a girl in order to get vital information. This is a Turkish film and it’s hard to figure out what’s done worse: the English dubbing or the acting skills that went into pretending this is a real fight and not an ode to a German folklore dance.
But fear not, after 20 seconds of almost being hit in the face, the girl caves in and tells where the evil guy is hiding. In fact, he’s apparently so evil he has to keep up his disguise while lying on the bed and browsing an adult mag. Actually, sorry for spoiling that… because maybe you hadn’t noticed our baddie was wearing a wig. After all, it looks so convincing…

However, it’s not as convincing as what comes next: our heroine fights the baddie and then shoots him… more than once (as we hear the voice of her sensei say: “After shooting him once, you must shoot again. You may think he is dead, but he may be alive.”)

Wise words and a true masterpiece.

Chappie

At the time of writing, Neill Blomkamp has directed three movies. His first one, District 9, hit bullseye immediately. His third one seems to be, as the British tend to say, marmite. More than 191.000 votes have been cast on the IMDb site and the overall score can only be described as decent (6.9/10). Dissecting the score, you’ll find the movie is best liked by Chappie_postergirls younger than 18 and the most active voters gave it the lowest ranking. To us, that seems to make a lot of sense. In a couple of sentences, we’ll reveal which question we’re going to ask if someone wants to hear from us if we’d recommend Chappie or not. But first, it’s time for a synopsis.

District 9 exposed us to an alien race, forced to live in the slums of South Africa. Chappie also takes us to that area, this time only to show us crime gangs who terrorize the neighbourhood, the police and other gangs. Luckily, the film is set in the near future, so the police can rely on droids to be sent into the field. One such droid, number 22, isn’t too lucky: fresh from a repair session, it’s once again destroyed the first time it’s back on a mission. The droid is written off and would’ve been destroyed if it weren’t for its creator Dean Wilson (Dev Patel). Dean has just made a breakthrough in an AI project and sees N°22 as the perfect droid to test it out on: can droids start thinking? Or, as Dean seems to wonder, write its own poetry. Because that’s the niche market we still needed: droid poetry.
Sadly for Dean, a criminal gang wants to kidnap him to control all droids and once they discover Dean’s secret project and the broken droid, it doesn’t take them too long to start using Chappie, the name they give the thinking droid, for their evil plans…

chappie02Dev Patel isn’t the only known name in the credits list of Chappie. Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver also smaller roles and there’s even a cameo for CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Oh, and there’s Die Antwoord. Which brings us to that question you were going to ask us:

You: “Hey Kurtodrome, should we watch Chappie or not?”
We: “Well, let us ask you something too: do you like Die Antwoord?”

If you don’t like Die Antwoord, by all means skip this film. If you like them a lot, go and watch it. If you’re somewhere in between, avoid Chappie too. And if you watch your movies based on how credible the performances of the artists are, we have very bad news for you. Yo-Landi (that should be ¥o-Landi Vi$$er, but we can no longer be @r$€d to deal with weird letters) has a decent range, but Ninja is such a two-dimensional charicature, even more than in the videos of the band) that it hurts the film. Even Blomkamp seems to have no idea what he wants to do: direct a movie or the video of the next Die Antwoord video. There are moments where Die Antwoord look like they’re acting, only for Chappie to suddenly start playing a bit from another track. And nowhere chappie01is that more painful than when Die Antwoord, another gang member and Chappie are ready for a robbery and walk towards the camera in slow motion (because that’s been cool since Reservoir Dogs, which was totally the first movie to ever do that – and no, Ta****ino never stole an idea from another movie, never). All natural sounds have been deleted and all we hear over the sight over this wannabe cool shot is a track by Die Antwoord. Which, even if you like the band, makes you realize you’re watching a long fanboy promo rather than a movie.

There are more scenes which hardly make sense: as Chappie is a droid who doesn’t want to do any harm, Ninja – who is played by Ninja – leaves him with a group of hoodlums, who terrorize him and set him on fire. But Chappie is a droid, so he survives… only to be kidnapped by a colleague of Dean who really hates Dean’s guts and cuts off one of Chappie’s arms… as one does. Which could’ve been moving, but then Yo-Landi and Dean use another arm as replacement and that’s the end of that (sort of). And then there’s the bit where Chappie doesn’t want to hold a gun because that hurts people… but he is fine chappie03with stabbing people. True, in the film it’s explained: Ninja – who is played by Ninja – tells Chappie that stabbing somebody “puts them to sleep”. Erm, but don’t the people who get stabbed shout in pain and start bleeding? Yes, they do, but for some reason Chappie is okay with that, despite stabbing and shooting looking very much alike and even though Chappie has already seen people sleep (so an intelligent droid should’ve known that this was a clear lie).

And in the end, that is the real problem with Chappie: it doesn’t know whether it wants to be trash or an emotional rollercoaster, a movie or an extended fanboy video for a band. And for us, that’s too many problems to like the film. It’s not that we don’t like Die Antwoord, because we like some of their tracks. It’s that one half of the duo can’t act in a film that has no idea of what it’s trying to be. Unless they always wanted to make a convoluted mess.

In memory of George A. Romero

romeroGeorge A. Romero is no longer with us. We read the news tonight and it felt like a punch in the gut. Romero was the director who became famous thanks to his debut Night of the Living Dead, a movie whose reputation hung over Romero’s later career – especially if you forward a couple of decades. Once his zombie trilogy was released in full, it seemed like people seemed to think Romero was no longer able to make another masterpiece. And when the zombie movies boomed again in the noughties, Romero decided that would’ve been a shame if everyone was making money with zombie movies apart from him (as there was no copyright on Night, companies didn’t have to pay him to put another edition of the film out on dvd), so he returned to the world of the undead for three more movies.

But it would be wrong to see Romero just as a director of zombie films. Especially, earlier in his career he wrote and directed several other films which are worth watching. Even though Knightriders is often forgotten in many lists, it has its fair share of fans and not knightriderswithout reason: it’s a nice movie where a group of bikers re-enact the world of medieval knights and, no matter how unlikely that sounds, it does work (and starts a.o. Ed Harris and Tom Savini). It’s not in our Top 3, but we thought we’d give it a mention, rather than spend a lot of time on that quintessential Romero movie: Night of the Living Dead. Yes, it’s in our top 3 because it’s the start of a zombie genre that leads up to now when zombies are even on TV (we’re not talking about political leaders, but about shows like The Walking Dead – and yes, the fact we said “shows”, so plural – is making our point for us. And it’s a start of a trilogy where all three movies have a message and are a sign of the times. So there, Night of the Living Dead is in our top three, but if you want to avoid zombies at any cost: feel free to pick Knightriders as an alternative.

Night would have been our number two, which is – you don’t have to tell us how charts work – higher than number three. That’s our spot for The Crazies, which – like Night – has also been remade. Romero’s original was released in 1973 and rather than reviewing it now, we’ll refer you to our previous review – which you can find here.

Number one is Martin. It’s a wonderful film about a young man who thinks he’s a vampire and the entire film Romero makes you guess whether he’s delusional or really a vampire). It’s nowhere as known as his zombie movies, which is a terrible shame you can do something about… by watching it. Apparently, it was also Romero’s most loved film, so if you like it, you’re in good company.

Martin-RomeroP.S. Because of this article, the scheduled review will now be posted on Thursday. At this point, Avenue Kurtodrome releases (at least) one entry a week, so if you check in once every seven days you should always be able to read something new.

Curve

Opinions differ. What one person likes, another doesn’t. Some comments about the short film below are negative, going from “1/10” (not exactly a multi-layered review) to “excellent job”. One reviewer said Curve lacked a back-ground story. If you read some of our earlier reviews of short movies, you might remember we don’t agree with that. Short movies, if done well, are perfectly equipped to show you a singular moment or event. Curve shows you a young woman clinging to a smooth surface and well aware of one thing: there’s a deep dark abyss beneath her feet and falling doesn’t seem like the best option. You don’t know why she’s there or why there’s blood on her head (Did she fall? Was she pushed?) No, in the end there’s only one question here: can she cling on or not?

Curve, written and directed by Tim Egan and starring Laura Jane Turner, is an Australian movie. Not that it shows: the actress doesn’t speak and the curve itself could’ve been anywhere (or nowhere). It’s a tiny unworldly atmosphere, reduced to the yes/no question we mentioned above.

If that’s not your thing, don’t bother with Curve. But as we mentioned earlier: opinions differ. Curve is the winner of several awards as you can see in the oblong below. There’s also a play button at the bottom left. Feel free to click on it.

CURVE from Lodestone Films on Vimeo.

2016: who would’ve been n°1?

Despite our best intentions to do this annually, we have had years who had to go without a list of the best 99 musical tracks. For very personal reasons, 2016 was one of those years. You’ll remember 2016, that bundle of joy. You couldn’t even enjoy a musical programme to hide from the dreadful news because virtually every show was interrupted by an announcement of another musical legend no longer amongst the living.

One thing struck us, though: we might have had lots of discussions offline about the influence of David Bowie, but when we had a look at our online archive, it turned out we hadn’t published that much about him.
So yes, we did see Bowie as one of the biggest artists of the 20th century (for various reasons we won’t mention here, but do feel free to send us a postcard if you’d like some correspondence about this topic) and his death (in January) as well as the release of Blackstar just before he’d leave us set the tone for the musical year 2016.

“Dollar Days” isn’t just a tribute to a late artist, it also contains lyrics that may have received fewer lines written about them than “Lazarus” but are equally – if not more – poignant. Especially the “I’m dying to” which – with an extra ‘o’ in ‘to’ – haunts you until well after the final notes…

Had there been a Best of 2016, “Dollar Days” would have the number one. So here it is: