Friday, December 19, 2014

Awards, film festival selections, and new editions

a good man movie

* My blog Traveling Cats has won The Bloggers' Lounge Blogger Of The Year Award. A big thank you to everyone who voted and shared. What a great way to end 2014.

* A Good Man (Un homme bien) is going to India! The French film adaptation of my vampire story, will be shown at the Imphal International Film Festival in India on December 27 and 28. 

* A Good Man (Un homme bien) has also been officially selected for Film Festival System D in Brussels, Belgium. The festival starts today.

* I concocted horror movie quizzes for an upcoming trivia book by the makers of Horror 101 and Hidden Horror. The book will have over 1200 questions covering hundreds upon hundreds of films. The working title is Horror U: Twelve Twisted Trimesters of Horror Trivia. It'll probably land in January in both ebook and physical form.

* My supernatural thriller Drowned Sorrow is available in a new paperback edition with a cover by award-winning designer Gilles Vranckx. Some places where you can get the book are Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon FR, and B&N

* The Strange Color Of Your Body's Tears (the movie for which I modeled for the poster) is now available on DVD/Blu-Ray and Instant Video. It's an excellent film, so be sure to watch it.

* My short film script Next To Her will most probably be directed by Fedrik De Beul (Août 1914). The movie will be in Dutch, but I'll make an English version of the script available on Kindle, Nook, etc. The cover is being made as I'm writing this. If you have a blog and want to do a cover reveal, review, or interview I'd greatly appreciate it. You may contact me at eeriestories75(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reading / watching / listening to...

reading by the fireplace

Reading: 

* Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham. I didn't relate with Lena Dunham's essays about growing up and finding oneself. I enjoyed the parts where she touches on her fear of death and liking a 'normal' job whereas society wants us to be more ambitious, but overall she came across as immature, full of herself, and sex-obsessed. If I finished the book, it's mainly because of her open and engaging writing style and because her behavior is strange enough to make you curious. But unlike Lena Dunham I don't use the words 'vagina' and 'tampon' in nearly all my sentences, I don't think that 'the blood of animals makes me strong', I'm not obsessed with my weight, and I don't invite men in my bed for the sake of turning them on so I can feel better about myself. In fact, the only thing I thought while reading this book was: I'm not that kind of girl. 

* The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Joan Didion wrote The Year Of Magical Thinking right after her husband died of a stroke while their daughter was lying in a coma. It's her account of what happened and how she tries to come to terms with the loss (or rather denying it). Many readers blame her for being detached of any emotion, but I don't agree. The way Joan Didion writes is how the brain works when it grieves; it goes over the same facts over and over in an attempt to understand and process the events; emotions seem far because the brain is numb. Reading The Year Of Magical Thinking is to understand grief, whether it pleases or not. 

* A Gift From Bob by James Bowen. James Bowen goes Scrooge. He recounts his last miserable Christmas as a busker, and encounters 'ghosts' that represent his past, present, and future, thus turning him into a happier, more stable person capable of enjoying the holidays. I'm such a fan of James Bowen that I'll probably be reading every single one of his future books without even glancing at them beforehand. They awake in me a sense of happiness that most other books never will. Yes, he's rehashing the same subjects, he could do with a better editor, and he hasn't written the most intellectually stimulating memoires ever; but who cares? I'm sitting here with a broad smile on my face just thinking about his stories. I believe that's reason enough to keep on reading them. 

* Chi's Sweet Home Volume 11 by Konami Kanata and Plum: un amour the chat volume 4 by Hoshino Natsumi. I'm taking these two cat mangas together because they are so similar. If you've read my previous reading, watching, listening to posts, you already know how much I love them. If you're a fan of cat books, I oblige you to put these on your TBR list. 


Watching: 

* Gone Girl. When Nick's wife goes missing, it becomes the focus of a media circus in which he has to prove his innocence. But is he really innocent? I already knew the answer after half an hour, so the rest of the movie was a little pointless. But I suppose Gone Girl can be enjoyable if you don't pay too much attention to detail, and if you don't get annoyed with the absurd twist in the end. I have to admit that I never got bored, though the film lasts two and a half hours. If you like movies such as Final Analysis and Side Effects, I'd say, go for it. 

* It's All About Steve. I watched It's All About Steve on the plane to The Gambia. What a mistake. Sandra Bullock headlines as one of the most neurotic and annoying women in film history. She falls head over heels with Steve (Bradley Cooper), stalks him across the US while he's trying to do his job as a cameraman, screams and runs like a madwoman, and wonders why he's not reciprocating her feelings. If Sandra Bullock ever plays another character like this, she risks getting bombed. 

* Sharknado 2: The Second One. Sharks literally fly their way through New York and nibble on everything that crosses their paths. Sharknado 2 is almost exactly the same as Sharknado 1. It can be fun if you watch it with friends, but I wish it could have been more inventive.

* Der Samurai. A man dressed in women's attire and carrying a samurai sword wanders through an isolated German village at night and takes on gargoyle-like postures. His movements are like choreography. His mission: to kill, to transform, to seduce. The entire film feels like a dream, with nightmarish colors and a soundtrack that pushes the story to yet another level of mystery. Der Samurai is as unconventional as it is accessible. The film may be small in scope and budget, but its impact is the opposite. A mesmerizing piece of debut cinematography. 

* The Babadook. My first reaction to The Babadook was: disappointment. The beginning was okay; but what was that silly ending all about? I wanted to forget about the film and move on to better ones. But then friends started to send me text messages like these: “Babadook: one of the best movies of the year”, “Not sure what to think of The Babadook. What's your opinion?”, “How do you interpret the ending of The Babadook?” Little by little, I started to see that there was a little more to the film than I originally thought. (spoiler alert) I like for example that in the end, feeding the 'monster' means that the mother has tamed her own madness. I'm still not a fan of The Babadook, but at least I can appreciate it a little more now. 

* Wolf Creek 2. Eight years after the release of Wolf Creek 1, Australian serial killer Mick Taylor is back to butcher more unsuspecting tourists. Wolf Creek 2 may be less realistic than its predecessor, it's also faster paced and more suspenseful. I didn't like the quiz at the end, but it mingles well with the rest of the film's humor. Good sequel. 

* Nightcrawler. Because I was so looking forward to this movie, I was convinced that I'd be disappointed, but Nightcrawler has even surpassed my expectations. Jake Gyllenhaal is brilliantly disturbing as the mantra-spouting sociopath who manipulates his way into LA crime journalism, and nothing beats the atmospheric and colorful camerawork by Robert Eswit. Fans of the film compare Nightcrawler to Drive, Network, and Taxi Driver. It's only a matter of time before the audience will start quoting Nightcrawler as an example. 

* The Counselor. Michael Fassbender plays a lawyer who gets involved in drug trafficking, and has to learn the hard way that life is about being responsible for the choices you make; once the mistake has been committed there's no turning back. I heard The Counselor was boring, pretentious, and overly philosophical. While I can understand the criticism, there's just no denying the originality of the characters, the bleakness of its plot, the importance of its philosophical rants, and the impact of its most salient scenes. I just wish I could wipe that bolito from my memory. 

* Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever. “Why are you even watching this?” Grumpy Cat asks the audience in her movie. I asked myself the same question. How could I watch a movie that is so by-the-numbers, so obviously made for commercial reasons alone, and so effortlessly dumb? I know I'm forgiving when it comes to Christmas movies and cat flicks, but still... Why did I watch something this bad till the end, and still kind of enjoyed it? 

* Stars 80. Typical French comedy about two concert organizers who set up a tour with famous singers from the eighties. The story and jokes are almost non-existent, and the movie consists mainly of the real artists singing their songs. However, everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves tremendously while making Stars 80, and that enthusiasm rubs onto the audience as well. I bet you can't stop singing French eighties classics after seeing this movie. 

* Stonehearst Asylum. Also called Eliza Graves, Stonehearst Asylum is based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether. It starts with a terrific idea (a recent medical school grad takes a position at a mental institution, having no idea that the patients have taken over the asylum), but it fizzles down because of wrong directorial choices that make the movie tame and on-the-nose. Thanks to an unexpected twist and many talented actors (Jim Sturgess, Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley), I still enjoyed the movie. Stonehearst Asylum has potential, but it never quite makes it to the top.


Listening to: 

* Soundtrack for the TV series The Leftovers by Max Richter. This is my favorite music of 2014. It even inspired me to write my short film script Next To Her. Just the perfect mix of sadness and tenderness that mixes so well with my story. 

* Soundtrack for Under The Skin by Mica Levi. The music is unsettling and might not be everyone's taste, but for me it's another favorite soundtrack of 2014. I'll definitely listen to this when writing another supernatural thriller.


What have you been reading, watching, and listening to lately? Anything here that piques your interest?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The part of France no one knew existed

north of france

Did you know that there's a part of France no one knew existed until six years ago? No one ever visited, and those who had heard about the area had major misconceptions. Even the French didn't know what was going on in this mysterious part of their own country. 

We're talking about the far north of France. For a long time, many people thought that Paris was the North and didn't know that there was an entire region to discover underneath. A region where almost every village produces its own beer, that is rich in history because of its strategic location in times of war, that is ideal for hiking and biking activities, and that has a vast array of local culinary specialities.  

bienvenue chez les ch'tis
bienvenue chez les ch'tis locations

So why is the far north of France so popular now? 

In 2008, the movie Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome To The Sticks) was released. In this French comedy about the misconceptions surrounding the region, a public servant from the Provence (Dany Boon) is banished to the distant, unheard of town of Bergues, in the far north of France. Strongly prejudiced against this supposedly arctic and inhospitable place, he leaves his family behind to relocate temporarily there, with the firm intent to quickly come back. But against all expectations, he loves it. 

As soon as the movie was released, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis became a humongous success in France and Belgium, and even got an Italian remake (Benvenuti al sud) and sequel (Benvenuti al nord). In no time, tourists went in hordes to the far north of France to discover the locations of their new favorite movie.


Exactly one week after I left The Gambia, I was invited by Pays de Flandre Tourisme to discover the far north of France, more in particular the villages of Cassel, Bailleul, Hondschoote, and Drincham. Here's a little overview of the places of interest I discovered during my trip. 

kasteelhof cassel
jardin du mont des recollets
cassel marshal foch

Cassel 

The most beautiful village I visited in the North of France was undoubtedly Cassel. The place has recovered well from the destruction during World War I and has preserved its ancient, almost medieval character, resulting in old city gates, small alleys, many passageways, and old houses. 

I explored Cassel via a city walk and a stroll through the Jardin du Mont des Recollets (voted 'best gardens of France'). From here, I had a wonderful vantage point over the region, because Cassel is built on the highest mountain of French Flanders (176 meters). In the past, many battles have been fought on the flanks of the Mont Cassel. 

I enjoyed an even better view from the estaminet Kasteelhof, that is decorated with traditional furniture and garlands of hop. Culinary enthusiasts from Belgium and the Netherlands often cross the border to dine in Kasteelhof. The dishes are typical of the area and make recurring use of ingredients such as chicory, speculoos and violet. What do you think for example of chicory wine or speculoos liqueur? I even tried Maroilles, the local cheese mentioned in Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis because of its strong smell. 

After lunch in Kasteelhof I visited the Musée de Flandre. During the battle of Ypres, the museum was the headquarters of Marshal Foch. Nowadays the museum houses a rather weird collection of Flemish art from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. 

bailleul
bailleul
bailleul belfry
bailleul architecture

Bailleul 

Bailleul is interesting because of its history. During World War I, the Germans bombed the town on an almost daily basis. Ninety-eight percent of Bailleul was destroyed and then rebuilt in Flemish style by the architect Louis-Marie Cordonnier. The War Memorial, a fake ruin from which a winged victory rises, refers to this destruction. 

For the best views of Bailleul, I had to climb the two-hundred steps of the belfry. The interior was particularly worth noting, mainly the carillon playing Flemish folk songs and the inside of the clock. The reconstructed belfry of Bailleul is since 2005 a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Also on the program was the Benoît de Puyd museum. Benoît de Puyd was a wealthy art collector who bequeathed both his art collection and his house to the municipality of Bailleul in order to turn it into a museum. The sculptures, paintings, furniture, ceramics, and lace from the Benoît de Puyd museum give an idea of the Flemish culture between the fifteenth and the nineteenth century. 

I finished my tour in Bailleul with a visit to the lace school. Lace making has always been an important activity in the region, and the school is a way to keep this tradition alive. 

hondschoote church
noordmolen hondschoote
le grenier du lin
hondschoote grenier du lin

Hondschoote 

Since the middle ages, Hondschoote is known as 'the land of flax'. From June to september, the surrounding fields are beaming with blue flax flowers which you can discover by following the flax route or by participating in the Rallye Bleu. 

In the cozy Le grenier du lin you can browse through several types of flax-based products: cosmetics, beer, food, linen clothing, etc. 

Did you know that the oldest windmill of Europe is located in Hondschoote? According to certain sources, the Noordmolen was built in 1127. Together with the Spinnewyl, the Noordmolen is still in use. 

My tour of Hondschoote ended with a visit of the St-Vaast's Church. This Flemish gothic church contains several exceptional altarpieces, confessionals, and organs. If you look closely, you'll notice that everything is made out of wood.

north of france guest-house

Drincham 

I spent the night in the guest-house Au Gallodrome in Drincham. It's super cozy, especially the bar/restaurant area where you can eat around a large wooden table in front of the fireplace. The food was excellent. 

If you are subscribed to my other blog, Traveling Cats, you will already know that Au Gallodrome is the home of two felines. Have a look at the pictures if you have not already done so. More pictures of the guest-house can be found here.

Overall, my stay in the far north of France was a cozy one and it was fun to recognize many of the elements from the movie. If you're a fan of Bienvenue chez le Ch'tis, then the north of France should definitely be added to your list of places to visit. 

P.S. The north of France organizes many Christmassy things right now. In Vallée de la Lys, for example, a decorated trailer will take you on a tour through the area while listening to a beautiful Christmas story and enjoying a snack. Of course, there are many Christmas markets on offer in the region. Some upcoming ones can be found in Watten (December 6 and 7), Méteren (December 7), Hazebrouck (December 12 to 24), Merville (December 12 to 14), Bergues (December 13 and 14), Neuf-Berquin (December 13 and 14) and Wormhout (December 17 to 21). 

Disclaimer: I visited the North of France as a guest of Pays de Flandre Tourisme. The opinions are my own. For more information, call 0033 328 48 61 54.