Sunday, February 06, 2011

Da Boy Tommy's Birthday Weekend

You know you won't get much sleep in during Da Boy Tommy's birthday weekend. That's a given for Monsieur Le Président's friends, just as much as they accept the laws of gravity.

It all started on Thursday night when, after running (or actually: swimming) into Justine and Josefien at the Olympia pool and inviting them over for spaghetti and drinks at the Kwekersstraat Mansion, I ended up stumbling out of the Pick bar well past midnight and returning home for a short night's sleep.

On Friday night, both Stijn and me joined Tommy in a pubcrawl which extended itself from the Rica to the Bras, then onto a local pita bar for some grub. Next up were De Vetten Os, Il Fiore, once again the Bras, with a final drink at 't Speelmanshuis.

As much fun as Thursday and Friday were; it was only last night we shifted into top party gear, at the annual election of Prince Carnival in Blankenberge - the infamous Prince Ball at the local casino. Normally around this time of the year, the Belgian Beach Club roams in the mountains of Switzerland, France or Austria, but as the 2011 skiing trip was postponed due to various reasons, at least we got to go to the Prince Ball.

And a ball we had. Our party of nine (Tommy, Julie, Julie, Bens Tiller, Pimöne, Katrien, Stijn, Eva and me) got the best seats in the house: right in front of the stage where we saw performances of the Quality Schlager Band, Swoop (see picture above), some ripe Dutch schlager queen and a couple of dance performance outfits.

We also got to enjoy the moment suprême - the election of the new Prince Carnival - from the first row.

Which was nice.

I must admit that I'm a sucker for these Carnival events. They're such fun: I like the music because it gets people moving around in polonaises and everyone's there with just one goal, and that's to enjoy the evening without too much fuss.

During the evening, we probably spent more time on the stage than the actual Prince Carnival did, performing several polonaises, exploring the backstage area and dancing around the various schlager artists. The rest of the crowd soon followed our lead - there was a moment in time during the Swoop show when the singer couldn't see his backing vocal girls anymore.

And when he started off the encore by getting the whole venue to sing along with 'Happy Birthday To You' - which I had requested while passing by the singer - for Tommy, we just knew this would be a night to remember.

Things only went uphill from there.

There's no ball like the Prince Ball in Blankenberge, believe you me.


Happy Birthday, Tomy.


Renault driver Robert Kubica, who suffered broken bones in a rally accident in Italy yesterday. According to the BBC coverage, "there will be doubts about his ability to continue in the sport." This is to hoping that Kubica fully recovers and one day makes it back to Formula One.

True Grit ***

There used to be a time when 'Coen Movies' guaranteed an unforgettable evening, be it after seeing them in the cinema or in your living room. 'Fargo', 'The Big Lebowski', 'O Brother Where Art Thou?'; even 'The Ladykillers' and 'Intolerable Cruelty': they're all masterpieces which combine clever storytelling, amazing photography and a wicked sense of humour.

But then things went pear-shaped with 'No Country For Old Men': a dark thriller with some western elements. Most movie critics lauded the film, though I found the dialogue to be stiff and strained and the storyline to be far-fetched and difficult to keep track of.

I wasn't too thrilled with it's follow-ups: the bleak though star-studded 'Burn After Reading' and the only mildly amusing 'A Serious Man'.

On Thursday, I got to see the latest Coen outing: 'True Grit', starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and fresh new face Hailee Steinfeld. This in a press screening which took place at the NBC Universal HQ in Brussels.

It's always a special experience, attending press screenings there, not only because you get to see the films serveral weeks before they're released; also because you wouldn't guess there's a cinema when you enter the nondescript building in King's Street. There's this whole secretive vibe which looms around the visit.

Anyway, I liked the film. It didn't wow me the way the early Coen movies did - I don't think they'll ever get back to that original level - but I found the acting supreme, the backgrounds breathtaking and the attention to detail unparallelled.

'True Grit' is about a 14-year old girl (Steinfeld) who seeks to avenge her father's death by hiring a bounty hunter (a rugged Jeff Bridges) to hunt down her father's killer (Brolin in only a minor role). They're joined by a quirky Texas Ranger (Damon) in their quest through Indian territory.

The story clanks now and then, but both Damon and especially Steinfeld (Hollywood seems to have discovered a new breed of 14-year old ass-kicking heroines; young girls that talk trash like you've never heard - see Chloë Moretz in 'Kick-Ass') deliver magnetic performances.

It's a full-blown western with some ingenious dialogue and the odd hilarious scene (especially those involving Indians) which more than makes for an entertaining evening.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

My Basketball Jones

It's well past midnight and I just finished doing the dishes after fixing dinner for two most charming ladies (my sister and The Sauron). I have every reason to be wiped and hit the deck. And if it weren't for the fact that, while doing the dishes, I listened to Hatebreed's 'Perseverance' album in its entirity, I probably would be in Dreamland by now.

But seeing as though that album gets your blood pumping faster than speed ever could, I'm still here, kickin' it on da blog.

This morning - before driving from Zwijndrecht to Zele, from Zele to Vilvoorde and from Vilvoorde back to Zwijndrecht - the picture which you see above this post caught my eye on (my 5th favourite website after Hotmail, this blog, Webstats for this blog and

Not only is it a magnificent shot of The Best Basketball Player This Side of Michael Jordan; it also represents my early love for basketball in general and the NBA in particular.

(Also, looking at the picture, it occurred to me that I have only referenced my Basketball Jones - that's how they call 'love for basketball' in the States - sideways on this blog, in the three weeks that I have been back in business. As this cannot be tolerated, I decided to dedicate today's post to my passion for the Beautiful Game of Basketball.)

My Basketball Jones showed up as early as my seventh year of life. I was in third grade of elementary school (OLVA Male, where u at??) and one of the many after-school activities was learning how to play basketball.

Though I wasn't very good at it, I soon started to wear Jordan apparel (even though I had never heard of this guy named Michael Jordan; when I first saw the name on the outfit, looking at the Jumpman logo, I thought he did ballet - that gives you an idea of how distant a notion the NBA was to me, growing up) and Nike sneakers.

(God dammit, if I think about the sneakers I wore back then, I would've copped a couple o' more larger sizes, so that I could still wear those fine, neon-colored butters today.)

We're talking 1990 here, around the time this Michael Jordan dude led his Chicago Bulls to a first of two three-peat World Titles in the NBA. Names were thrown around such as 'Johnson', 'Robinson', 'Jordan' - they all meant sh** to me as the National Basketball Association was about as underground in Belgium as the up-and-coming grunge movement.

(God dammit, if only I had known back then what I know now; I would've checked out Nirvana at Pukkelpop, I would've bought the first Tool LP's and gone to see them in obscure Belgian venues, I would've checked out the first RATM gigs on the European continent. There's so much that I've missed.)

From time to time, I would see highlights coming from the distant US. By 1992, the Dream Team came and took Europe by storm. 'Johnson', 'Robinson', 'Jordan' were no longer just names; I could now put faces on them. And highlights, lots of highlights.

The NBA soon became an obsession. I bought the XXL mags and the Upper Deck Cards, copped the gear and the sh**s, but it wasn't until 1998, when this scrawny, 18-year old kid named Kobe Bryant came along, that my NBA appetite was whetted forever.

This guy had it all: a cool team (the LA Lakers), a cool sneaker ad with a West-Coast trash metal soundtrack, and hops which hadn't been seen since MJ first showed up. This guy was the real deal.

All this time, I never played organized ball. Bruges had a pretty lively streetball scene back in those days, especially in the summertime, when guys like me only got to play when it got dark and the real ballers got tired. But I loved the game - and I still do.

In 1999, the New York Knicks advanced, as the second no. 8 seed ever, to the NBA Finals. That was one amazing run with some amazing players. Camby, Ewing, Sprewell, Childs, Ward - heck, even Dudley. A gritty team which never said die. I watched their run to eternal NBA glory night in, night out, on the Canal + pay channel. Got up in the middle of the night to see them play.

Canal + got too expensive the next few years, so my attention swung back to Formula One - though I never lost track of the world's greatest basketball league via

Coming April, I plan to get a subscription to NBA League Pass, the online network which lets you enjoy every. Single. NBA ballgame. Live. (Non-basketball fans better stay away from this website then, as it'll be my primary point of focus.)

I could wax lyrically about Kobe Bryant and the NBA all I want, but maybe I should point out the reasons why I love this sport so much: it's fast, intense and very often the most exciting sport you'll ever see. It's not a discipline made up of a bunch of wankers (which you all too often see in football) kicking the sh** out of each other - no, this is a hard-punching man's game.

And I think the NBA is made up of amazing athletes with often electrifying personalities, writing basketball history through emotion-laden matchups.

So to me, 'Where Amazing Happens' is a pretty good tagline for this sport. Anything goes, anything can happen, but it's always the most talented and persevering (there we've got that Hatebreed album again) which take the prizes.

And if you could excuse me now, I'm off to bed. I've got a special treat planned for tomorrow, which my inner movie geek will certainly appreciate.

Happy trails


Monday, January 31, 2011

Catching Up

Yesterday evening, I headed downtown (if there is such a thing as 'downtown' in Bruges as it's only e schorte groat) to see this film 'Winter's Bone' at the Lumière. If I hadn't turned my head to the right as I was walking by Bar des Amis, a mere 100 meter from my destination, there would've been a review of the film in this space.

Fortunately, as there's been waaay to much movie stuff on this blog the past week, I did look to the right, only to see four of my old high-school pals (Mitch, Friggyman, Kathleen and Evy) waving at me from their table in the BDA.

Now I may be the biggest movie geek you'll ever meet, but I will never, and I repeat NEVER, walk past a table des amis just to watch a film - there's just no way. So I diverged from the planned route, made my way through the crowd at Bar des Amis and sat my ass down to have a drink with my friends.

Mitch, Friggyman, Kathleen, Evy and me go way back, probably to 1999. Back then, we were all sixteen and, apart from Friggyman, we enjoyed our first brushes with the good life. I remember some boozywoozy nights at the premises next to the Vlissinghe bar (the infamous Renier residence) and I don't think any of us will ever forget those nights at the Charlie's with our South-African guests.

Anyway, we stayed in touch over the years, first via weekly get-togethers at Joey's (another bar in Bruges). The contacts were less frequent the last five years, apart from the odd metalfest, housewarming or birthday bash, so it was good to see them again on this odd Sunday night - a time of week where you wouldn't expect to bump into each other and have some drinks.

One beer turned into a couple of Duvels, and by the time it was midnight, Friggyman and the girls were gone and it was just Mitchman and I. We weren't ready to throw in the towel just yet, though, so on we went, to have a last call at the Crash, Bruges' resident metal pub.

Being as metal minded as we are, Mitchman and me didn't pay its vapid beer, its run-down interior and its funny crowd (and by 'funny' I don't mean 'haha funny') much mind; we just enjoyed the music.

We were lucky enough to have Pieter as our bartender, because Pieter's a real music connoisseur. We don't have to ask him to play some Rage Against The Machine or Queens Of The Stone Age tunes, that's pretty standard at the Crash when Pieter's behind the counter. He might jump in with some Metallica or Volbeat, or maybe even some Nirvana - it's all good.

So by the time I normally would've reviewed 'Winter's Bone' on this website, I stumbled out of the Crash.

The blissful feeling that got a hold of me after listening to aforementioned jams more than made up for the lack of sleep which manifested itself this morning, after an all too short night's rest.

Meh: I'll sleep when I'm dead!

Happy trails!



Did you notice how fast January went by? I'm still recovering from New Year's Eve...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Darjeeling Limited ****

Woke up today around nine, with no hangover. Such is very rarily the case on a Sunday morning, so I soon became restless. 'What to do?', I asketh myself. As I don't need much to have a good time - out here in West-Flanders we say 'He can amuse himself with a straw' ('Je kut em bezigoeden met e rietje') - I loaded a recently purchased copy of 'The Darjeeling Limited' into the dvd player.

Now, each generation of movie geeks has its own hero director. In the sixties, cinephiles idolized Alfred Hitchcock. In the seventies, they deified Stanley Kubrick (don't remember how N. last pronounced his name, but it was funny). In the eighties, they revered Steven Spielberg. The nineties and noughties were James Cameron's terrain. (Sorry, Michael Mann and David Fincher.)

Even though I find myself hooked to the work of Darren Aronovsky, the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino; I'm actually most attracted to Wes Anderson's stylish tableaux vivants: 'The Royal Tenenbaums', 'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou', 'The Fantastic Mr. Fox' and aforementioned 'The Darjeeling Limited'. In my opinion each of these are works of art.

Not only are these films rich in story (the scenarios often revolving around fraught family relations); they are also beautifully made with the utmost attention to detail (I bought the dvd's so that I could press 'pause' from time to time, to admire the images, as each frame could be a painting in itself) and the actors who play in them seem to be born for their roles.

'The Darjeeling Limited' is another one of those vintage 'Wes Andersons'. It's about three brothers (played by Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody) who, after their father's death, go on a spiritual journey through India.

Most of the 'action' (might be an ill-chosen term as 'The Darjeeling Limited' tells a very quaint, still story) takes place on a train which is called The Darjeeling Limited and carries them through the vast Indian outback; sometimes halting for a visit to a temple or stopping altogether because it got lost.

Trains getting lost and not being to locate themselves might sound insane in the real world, but in Wes Anderson's universe it's actually quite normal.

The same goes for the characters: at first, they seem normal people, but the more Anderson peels back the layers (and there are many), you see that they are indeed a bit loony. The insanity generally stems from top-loaded family issues - divorces and the resulting fear of being left behind or being afraid to commit to others, difficult brother-sister relationships and so on.

(Come to think of it; I'd say my family could provide Anderson with some great fodder for a new film. My aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and even grandparents each have their own character, with the necessary electricity - and sometimes nuclear meltdowns - as a result. Let's just say our family gatherings are never boring. My uncle Bart, who's a writer and whose stories remind me of Andersons work in all of its aesthetic and detail, even used the matter as inspiration for a book - and a good one at that.)

The great thing about the quaint little Wes Anderson stories, with its colorful characters alternately hating, loving, fighting and caressing each other, is that they sometimes sidestep into crazy sequences, either in strong dialogue (like when Gene Hackman picked a fight with Danny Glover in 'The Royal Tenenbaums', saying: 'You heard me Coltrane. You wanna talk some jive?') or rumble-tumble action (cars crashing into houses, people getting stabbed in cold blood, islands being violently invaded). Those sequences breathe some air into the emotion-laden movies.

(I'm just rambling on about Wes Andersons style while I should actually be talking about 'The Darjeeling Limited'. Scuzzi.)

The things that make 'The Darjeeling Limited' another 'Wes Anderson' to remember are the images, which were shot on a moving train (very difficult to do as there's practically no place to work), the acting (both Wilson and Brody deliver highflying turns, and I loved the Bill Murray cameo as well) and the story (which revolves around the fact that you may not have been able to choose your family, but they're nonetheless the most important people in your life).

"I love you all, but right now I'm gonna mase you!", Schwartzmans character yells at one point in the movie, before spraying mase into his fighting brothers's eyes, and I think that line says it all: 'The Darjeeling Limited' tackles subjects which normally make you teary-eyed, but the director never lets the movie slip into ill-advised melodrama by providing the necessary humor and action.

What can I say: It's a must-see.


... I want you to take a look at the sidebar, where Annelie's and Bakerman's blogs have been removed (that's what you get when you don't actually post on your blog) and have been replaced with the websites of both Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone - the fourth and third best magazines in the world, respectively. They're worth a sneak peek.


Tonight Hollywood pats itself on the back with the Screen Guild Awards, where actors 'honor their fellow actors'. Curious to see who wins out.

Ferrari's Weapon of Choice for the New F1 Season

(I was gonna write something about Margot's birthday bash of yesterday evening in Brussels, but seeing as though the birthday girl in question wasn't really in the party mood after the necessary celebrations of the night before, and I was a wee bit moody after an afternoon in which I needed all the focus I had - and from which many good things will come, as well as for me as for this blog; you just wait - the whole party idea didn't really pan out. So I just decided to write something about the new Ferrari, which was unveiled last Friday.)

So I guess it's just me and all three of you. (Hello Canada! US! Brazil, you too!) It's a beauty, innit - the F150, I mean?

But apparently, the car which will take the start at the Bahrain Grand Prix, come March 13th, will look completely different than the one you see here. (Welcome to modern F1, folks...) At least that's what Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali and chief designer Nicolas Tombazis told the BBC:

"The car you will see at the first race will be completely different from the car you will see in Valencia. (...) This car is just the first step; the entire body will be changed. We will have changes visually and also in performance for our first race."

According to the BBC, the name of the car is a reference to 'the 150th anniversary of the reunification of Italy'. Next week, on February 1st, the 1st test will take place in Valencia - a test where all F1 teams get the chance of running their new cars.

Ahhh, I can already smell the sweet scent of burning rubber and V8 exhaust fumes in the air - like spring, the new F1 season is upon us. Only 41 days left!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Way Back ***

It's almost twelve o'clock on a Friday night and I'm not in some dingy bar singing along to 'Ein Knallrotes Gummiboot'. Actually, I'm doing quite the contrary: I'm at my desk typing away on this blog - whát is my problem?!

Some might say that hanging out at dingy bars, singing along to silly schlager music is my problem, others could point at this blog and mumble the word: 'Problem.'

They'd probably mutter it in some silly Russian accent, the same way they do in the movie 'Eastern Promises'. There's something about those Eastern-European characters in Hollywood movies that makes 'em speak like sixteen-year olds with a swollen tongue, like they just drank their first wodka.

'The Way Back', Peter 'Dead Poet's Society' Weir's new film (Weir also made 'The Truman Show'), is another example of a movie with Eastern-European characters speaking English with a bad accent. (At least these Russians don't roll around naked in a steamhouse, like they do in 'Eastern Promises'.)

I didn't think the heavy accents weren't that much of a problem in this film, as opposed to the Girl Who Shall Henceforth Be Known As N., who sat next to me. Luckily, that was the only time during the movie N. wiggled around on her seat, firing criticism at the actors. (In fact, she loved the film - and N. isn't normally the one to be pleased easily. But passons.)

(I could write a book about N., but I suggest we proceed with reviewing this film. It's waaaay too late to start writing a book.)

'The Way Back' tells the true story of this group of men who escape from the Gulag - the working camps in the Siberian outback where Joseph Stalin and his Soviet regime sent 'the unwilling' to die from starvation, before, during and after World-War II. (These 'unwilling' being the state's literati; engineers, lawyers, artists and so on who wouldn't comply with the Communist ideas and were thus seen as 'enemies of the state'.)

The journey of this motley crew, comprising of The Elder Statesman (Ed Harris), The Young Idealist (Jim Sturgess), The Rugged Crook (Colin Farrell), The Sensitive Artist (Alexandru Potocean) and some bleaker hangers-on, only begins after they find their way out of the camp - if they make it out at all.


Okay, so they get out of the camp - if not 'The Way Back' would be a short-film. But after escaping, they must find a way to survive through the bone-crunching cold of the Siberian woods, the blistering heat of the Mongolian desert, and then once again the cold of the Himalaya, on their way to The Promised Land: India.

Now, there's always a risk involved when you film a story which stretches out over thousands of kilometers in a timeframe of several months - you risk losing the voltage, the pressure of the story.

I've gotta say that I normally don't like those kind of stories (with the exception of 'Forrest Gump'). The movies I like best happen within the frame of a few days, with only a limited number of actors interacting on a certain number of locations.

I loved the first part of the movie, which took place in some god-forlorn Gulag camp. After that, the DNA of the film gets stretched to a maximum, with its storyline sometimes skipping a few days and with alternate sidestories getting cut short. About halfway, I was starting to feel uneasy about this.

But the two things that won me over in 'The Way Back' were 1. The honesty and warmth of the characters and of their interaction with the group (that's a typical Peter Weir trademark you'll find in the characters of 'Dead Poet's Society' and 'The Truman Show' as well) and 2. The wonderful feeling you get by watching the characters travel through the most breathtaking landscapes you'll ever see on the big screen.

Watching 'The Way Back', even though it hardly depicts a walk in the park and the characters do suffer deeply, makes you feel like travelling. I'm sure N. felt the same way about it.  She probably would even give this film four stars. I'm sticking with three.

N., don't give me that look. It's MY blog!!