Best of 2017: Daughter

As per usual, there is a slight delay between the end of a year and the moment this site announces its best track. To be fair, late 2017 and early 2018 we tried to get a real list – you know, a genuine list of 99 tracks best remembered – but 2017 had become such an emotionally heavy year that it created such a backlog with many things left unresolved up to this day.

To be fair, with many of our favourites already on the list, it became clear that Burn it down by Daughter was becoming unchallenged. Stranded in the higher regions in previous years and the creators of an excellent Get Lucky that overclasses the original, it was only time for Daughter to claim the first spot. Oh, and lyrics like “We continue to be disappointed” always help to kick a horrible year into oblivion. So let’s forget about all the abysmal stuff and enjoy this track:

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Laissez bronzer les cadavres

Off to Brussels now, in two ways even. 1) At this point, the wonderful Cinema Nova is the only place to see Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres (Let The Corpses Tan) and 2) the French couple who made this film have been living in Brussels for a while now. It’s safe to say Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet are frequent visitors of the Nova too, as the couple shares the cinema’s love for Italian cult cinema. (In case you’re unaware, the Nova shows lots of movies you wouldn’t see in other cinemas, from old to new, documentaries about Calais to Italian cannibal gore, from sleazy pulp to movies more high-brow than you can make your eyebrows go.)

Laissez Bronzer (or LBLC, to give my fingers some rest during the rest of this review) is the third of the couple’s feature films. Previously, they also directed L’ etrange couleur des larmes sur ton corps – like Ms. Cattet’s first name, this title is also missing an accent or two, but that’s what you get if you’re forced to write reviews on an iPad – and, more importantly, Amer, which you may have spotted somewhere late at night (it’s been on Arte and Horror Channel, to name but two stations). Amer was a stylistic masterpiece, but its visual beauty overpowered the movie’s storyline. To a degree, that’s also true for LBLC. Style over content seems to be the couple’s biggest flaw, but whether this is a real flaw or original intent, is something up for discussion. Because style over content is also a valic criticism of the giallo movies Cattet and Forzani clearly love. Actually, you’d be a fool for not spotting this: the couple do more than paying visual homage to this Italian cult genre, their movies also use those soundtracks. The moment LBLC burst into Ennio Morricone‘s score for Who Saw Her Die was a personal highlight.

However, style over content doesn’t mean there is no story. To summarize it as briefly as possible, there’s an artist couple living away from society in an area full of ruins. (Corsica does have some great ruins, it must be said.) There’s a handful of gangsters raiding a truck full of gold. There are two police officers, a man and a woman, investigating this. And there’s a woman with her son and a maid, looking for her husband. All of this will be combined in a showdown that’s hard to follow. Oh, it’s pretty easy at the start, but once you’re past the movie’s credits – which incidently made me think more of Berbarian Sound Studio than the genre movies both films are referencing – the film offers you what’s happening in a series of butchered cuts from multiple angles. I do mention the butcher here because that’s the final location pre-credits. Is it also a tell-tale sign of what’s about to follow? The butchered timeline of the story and/or the ensuing bloodbath? Anyway, without wanting to spoil too much, let’s just reveal the female police officer gets shot. You’ll see this at least three times, once in her perspecitve, once from the shooter and once from a witness.

But whereas this is still easy to follow, when the movie progresses and alliances are no longer as clear as they were in the beginning, it’s almost impossible to keep track of the story. We heard more than one frustrated sigh from other people in the audience. So, let’s put it this way: if you want an easy-to-follow storyline with goodies and baddies, this is not the right film for you. It doesn’t help either that the film is occasionally layered with scenes that are either metaphorical or hallucinogetic  (or why not both?). There’s a long-haired female figure and several other shadowy figures that just don’t want to show themselves clearly, in scenes best described as Jodorowsky re-shot by giallo directors. If that makes sense, well done on your knowledge of cult cinema. If not, join the people in the audience who were also clearly baffled. There is a scene, all shot in shadows, where the long-haired female figure is tied to a cross. As ropes entangle her, it seems she’s lactating while someone opens a bottle of bubbles. But the amount of foamy juice running down her body you see next, makes it obvious this may not be the most literal scene in the movie.

Also, far from literal is the sound of the film. And it’s as good as any moment to say hello again to Berbarian Sound Studio. In post-production, Forzani and Cattet recreated the kaleidoscope of sounds you hear in LBLC: from the sound of leather uniforms moving while walking on rocks to the sequence of a lighter being opened and the subsequent sounds of a cigarette being lit, you’ll hear any kind of sound in the film in glorious detail. We can only hope the sound engineer of LBLC fared better than the protagonist of Berbarian.

The artist couple in LBLC describe themselves as amoral, meaning they’re equally inviting to criminals as to police officers, upholders of a law system the couple don’t really believe in. Which means LBLC doesn’t offer you a list of characters to root for, something to bear in mind when the massacre begins. And yes, massacre is an appropriate word because the film gets very violent. Tiptoeing on a fine line between acceptable and gratuitous, the film seems more interested in the way blood flows or splatters rather than in offering an overdose of gore, but we do understand LBLC can be too violent for a fair share of viewers. (Though, it must be said, most of those viewers won’t go and see the film anyway once they’ve read the title of the film – by the way, excellently appropriate for such a combination of homage and experiment in style.)

Last but not least, we should also mention two people from the cast that leap out for obvious reasons: Stephane Ferrera has been in a fair share of French cult movies (a.o. Godard‘s Detective) whereas Elina Lowensohn will not be a stranger to the fans of Hal Hartley or Michael Almereyda. From visuals over sounds to the cast, everything in Let The Corpses Tan screams out this is an intentionally crafted cult movie. Even to the point where it shouldn’t surprise you anymore the film was based on a 1971 novel by Jean-Pierre Bastid, who also wrote and directed several cult movies from the 1960s to the 1980s. Or was that the final straw and are you now suffering from an overdose of cult references? If so, feel free to start with Amer, which may be a bit easier for novices. If not, you may have found a wonderful alternative to a trip to the tanning salon. Just don’t forget to the butcher’s first. 

Sorry about that. Some puns seemed like a viable option to end a review of a complex film, one with a difficult structure and an unclear ending. How else could we have finished it? We couldn’t have left you stuck in the middle of

7/10

Trailer

R.I.P. Mark E. Smith

When arriving home tonight, my iPad informed me that some people had tweeted about Mark E. Smith, singer and leader of The Fall. The internet soon proved that it was not for a good reason: Mr. Smith is no longer with us.

Expressing why this news hits you more than the deaths of several other musicians is not easy, much like The Fall is not easy. I clearly remember not being sure which album to buy, Cerebral Caustic or another more typical 90s album and most people telling me not to go for that weird shit. Much like I remember buying British music magazines and Mark E. Smith constantly being referred to as “notoriously difficult” to interview. (And as much as I often had second doubts about Mr. Smith’s often controversial meanings) much like liking bands just that tad more if they cited The Fall as one of their favourite bands.

A top three of the first three Fall tracks to pop up in my head seemed like a nice obituary, but in the end “Telephone Thing” was replaced by a Von Sudenfed track. Because I remember myself standing in the crowd at a festival and hearing the news that Von Sudenfed, a collaboration between Mouse on Mars and Mark E. Smith, would be replaced by just Mouse on Mars because Mr. Smith hadn’t showed up. The sort of thing that made you go: yeah, that’s Mark E. Smith in one of his moods alright.

Hit The North (a quintessential The Fall track)

Don’t Call Me Darling (our personal favourite from Cerebral Caustic, as mentioned earlier, that album we still bought despite everyone telling us to go for the other album)

Von Sudenfed – Fledermaus can’t get it

 https://youtu.be/iG-CLFPU6RY

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.

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.