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Month: September 2016

The Shallows (2016)

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Let Me Surf, Godammit!

The story of a bizarre love triangle between Steven, a male seagull, a female shark and the blonde bimbo who flies all the way from Texas to make a mess of their otherwise platonic relationship, The Shallows doesn’t escape all the traps laid out by its problematic title: none of the three characters has much depth. Fortunately, the surf bimbo is played by Blake Lively, who has enough warm and empathy to embark the viewer in her quest for survival when she realises that interfering with Mother Nature is indeed a bad idea, even driven by the best of intentions, here paying hommage to Mother, period. Her Mom had a dream beach in Mexico (here played by Queensland) but she died, so Nancy is perpetuating her legacy, even if it means dropping out of medical school on her very last year. She’s driven to said beach by a sympathetic local, Carlos, who twice eludes her question about the name of the place. One has suspicion it is Tiburon Playa, as “tiburon”is Spanish for shark. Why it has to be kept a secret among the locals is beyond one, and the writer, but it makes Carlos a harbinger of doom.

Starting with found footage that at least has the dual elegance of not being grainy VHS and being explained by live action later in the movie, The Shallows has maybe its best scene in the jeep driving Nancy to the beach, with the inability of a white US citizen to communicate even in the simplest way with the latinos who have been part of the nation for quite some time.There would be a point to be made that Nancy relates more easily to Steven the Seagull and to the shark that she does with Carlos and the local surf buddies she quickly joins in some satisfying aquatic exploits. The beach has “incredible tubes” when the tide is up. Blake Lively is credible in her surf scenes (she’s after all a Californian, not a Texan), but for some reason she opts for riding one more of these tubes when the sun is very low on the horizon, in spite of what she professed five minutes before. That, and her blind reliance on finding a Uber from a deserted Mexican beach, makes her quite air-headed, but since she’s a pleasant and focussed actress we follow her on her predicament, suspending all disbelief.

See, Steven is nursing his wounded wing on a small rock near the beach and the female white shark whose object of affection he is will have none of this nonsense about bipeds ridind surf boards to hit on him. Sensing that the blonde is a stronger rival than the couple of male locals, she attacks and hurts her. Nancy is saved by a beached whale painfully dying from her wounds (apparently, it came to say hi to Steven and was the previous victim of Sharkette’s jealous wrath). But wait, the whale is not dead yet and swims away, leaving Nancy with only one possible shelter: Steven’s rock. That proves a terrible mistake as now it gets personal and Sharkette will do anything to prevent the blonde alien to steal her beloved’s heart.

At that point one feels compelled to remind the reader that sharks are essential to the ocean eco-system and are far from the demonic creature Hollywood has complacently made of them since Jaws. Sharks are not much worse than dolphins, in the cold light of science: they are just much less cute and never went to see an orthodontist. That’s the reason why one was tempted to root for Sharkette during the rest of the movie, as she proves both determined and rather smart. Nancy, on the other hand, is very resourceful and use a variety of factors, like her earrings, jellyfishes or a buoy to get out her predicament alive. Girlfriend only wanna have fun surfing, not being mauled by the underwater equivalent of Glen Close in Fatal Attraction!

The Shallows is short and compelling. Only Mexicans die. CGI Sharkette is good, especially when she’s first glimpsed, or when she furiously chews on the buoy’s metal structure. Blake Lively is as solar as one remembered her from The Savages, and her Instagram is rather hilarious. You could definitely waste 86 minutes in a much worse fashion than watching her fight for her life. Steven Seagull steals the show, though.

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American Horror Story S6E02

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The Alphabet Is So Funny

So we’ll get Gaga after all, we are so lucky! Either she’s definitely a retard cultist hardly glimpsed in this episode segment inspired by Gone with the Wind (“It’s a great day for a barbecue!”), or her final credit is just the premise of more to come. Who knows. It’s only the second episode and we are definitely lost. Last week, Shelby wanted nothing more than to leave the house but she turned 180° and now fights for it. Last week, Lee was a strong woman but she fell off the wagon and is now a confused, terrified drunk, not Amanda Bassett’s forte. Last week the writers were defying expectations and now it’s like they try to fit them all (“It’s a cult!”, “It’s Charles Manson”), only it seems more like Blair Witch with explicit images; not that it seems a bad idea, but is it a good one?

So what kind of progress are we making in the understanding of this season’s purpose, not helped by the cast, having to act clueless when Season 5: Hotel was about knowing all and speaking in ironic, oracular terms about what was happening at the Hotel Cortez? Well, the interracial couple has officially become “kooks crying wolves”, because they can’t help being terrified by the house they foolishly bought. Not helping is the fact that Flora, the daughter Lee abducted to protect her (and you were fired for what, again?) vanishes after stating that she was making friend with a ghost girl “so she will kill me last”. Careful what you’re wishing, hon, shouldn’t you wish to go first in order the be spared your family’s massacre? Just a thought…

We get introduced to the Euthanasia Sisters, giggling nurses shooting old crones in the head while developing a language of their own, based on the letters of their name. That’s called “folie à deux”, one thinks. Anyway, the letters on the walls spell MURDE, which is a tad less encrypted than in The Shining. The same “mysterious” message appears under the – ludicrously easy to tear down – wallpaper. The Millers can well be 21st century Americans, mortgaged up to their neck, they nevertheless start to self-destroy their property and therefore themselves.

There is also more found footage, about which two things can be said: it comes very late in that specific line of business, and it has no credible contender on the cheap side of filming. Here, we have someone having lived in the basement for years, researching for a book titled Helter Skelter (ha!). There are numerous shots blurring the line between what is seen and what is not. There is what appears as a deliberate attempt to utterly emasculate the character played by Cuba Gooding Jr.

Some stuff puzzle, though. Before the child vanishes into thin air, no one seemed bothered enough to spend more than five minutes in the same room than her and she is pretty much left to her own devices. There is some poetic justice in having her kidnapped after her mother did so. Also, why is the alphabet so funny for the Naughty Nurses from Hell? One would love their bloody rampage to be rooted in language but it seems somehow unlikely. But Kathy Bates is having a great time as usual, that’s cool.

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Lunch in Paris: La Bulle

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Call Me Bubble, Everyone Does

We slowly find our way regarding food here at Modern Monsters, and it helps a lot that we now have a food correspondant, tracking the best (mostly lunch) options in beautiful Paris, the place where everyone wanna go, or has been intending to return, having in mind not to end up in some ugly brasserie or café, eating an overpriced lukewarm croque-monsieur, with equally half-backed service to boot. Michelin stars are just too easy to find in the world’s first touristic destination, so we will focus, as we did in Florence or Lisbon, and soon a couple of Japanese cities, on yummy. Just know that it is a hit-and-miss endeavour, and that we have an educated palate. So this week we have one good place and an easily forgotten one, whatever other websites try to sell them for.

It would be an understatement to say that La Bulle is off the beaten track, close to the Louis Blanc metro station, on a quiet street corner. The place bas been there for 8 years but the chef has recently changed and he has quite a pedigree, which comes as evident in the plates, based on fresh quality products. The good thing about the street corner is that you can sit outside when weather allows, which was the case on our visit, and benefit from the attention of a casual and sweet staff. Lunch of the day there is 24€ for a three course service, and every cent is in your plate. Let’s detail quickly.

Starter was a crispy bean salad, well seasoned with some good ham and a lot (maybe too much) of hazelnut bringing a nice, crunchy feeling to a humble, dow to earth dish: it is always good to feel like you are eating someone’s cuisine, free from the hurdles of French tradition: you add some foie gras to this dish and it works, but it becomes predictable in the process. They say you never have the opportunity to make a first impression twice: Victoire’s appetite was whipped after this ultra-simple dish.

Main course was either a well cooked beef with a fresh ginger and parsley sauce, including a wonderful beefsteak tomato and cabbage leaf chips, or a sea trout with a celery purée and a julienne of garden peas. The meat dish was, once again, simple but heartily delivered. One could have done without the grapefruit slices blurring the taste of the celery which worked very well in combination with the trout. If there was one more reservation to express, dressing was a bit messy, but who cares in this price – and quality – range? La Bulle sends hefty plates, anchored in a true attention to product, let the balsamic dots to the pretentious restaurants where they belong.

Dessert was a strawberry and lemon vacherin, the nicest dressed dish by much, and it delivered the goods. Throughout lunch, service was consistently attentive but never overbearing. Since the wine one ordered was unavailable, Plan B was not on the check, a nice gesture which sums up La Bulle: in spite of the dated, 80s decor, there is some serious cooking taking place there, and it’s worth giving it a try if you wanna sample what a simple, serious corner restaurant has to offer in gazillion-starred Paris.

Food correspondent: Victoire V.

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Life’s Too Short: The Strain S3E01 (2016)

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The Restrain

One doesn’t know about you, but one thinks that any series starting its third season by a voice-over and a nightmare scene doesn’t deserve to have survived that far. Especially after its first season’s promise of a vampiric nazi hostile takeover of the USA degenerated into another repetitive, soporific, empty zombi vessel. It has become painfully obvious that Guillermo Del Toro is only name-dropped with his Executive Producer credit; the card could as well read “loosely adapted from a couple of Del Toro’s ideas for a better series”. That thing is a mess and it’s not even hot anymore, after being reheated on a malfunctioning back burner for two years.

Solemnly uttered by the old fart who carved The Master’s sarcophagus is Auschwitz or something, the voice over drops a time bomb as its first sentence: it has only been 23 days since the commercial aircraft carrying said sarcophagus has landed in JFK, meaning that it took three years for The Strain to cover three weeks. May one remind the reader that by watching this series we engage with vampires more than a thousand years old? Three weeks are a wink of an eye, a twitch, yet they almost got the bastard twice already. Who said “plot contrivance”? At such a sluggish pace it will take them 150 seasons to get anything done. It’s not The Strain, it’s The Restrain.

Speaking of twitching, there is a rather hilarious scene in this episode when the human/vampire hybrid boss goes visiting “The Ancients”, the three remaining millenary vampires acting as the Council of Elders for that particular breed. They made an apparition during Season 2 for a luncheon scene which was played for horror, but this time around it’s more of a strategic briefing. Oh boy. If the three naked old crones perched on the most uncomfortable stools ever conceived for sacred patriarchs were not enough, just consider how senile they appear. They twitch nervously as if affected by a mix of Alzheimer and Parkinson, their groans diligently translated by a bald minion. Cherry on the cake, the hybrid boss states that they are the only remaining Ancient as “the four in the Old World” have been killed by The Master, meaning that once upon a time there were seven Ancients, that for some reason three departed for the New World (short straw, one guesses), and that The Master is far superior to them. Not that it appears very difficult to kick those elderlies down from their stool, but still.

The Master, see, is impervious to technology. It just doesn’t work on him. This is demonstrated in an endless scene involving an old church and a SWAT team, which is basically Call of Duty with night goggles, including First Person Shooter POV. The old nazi appears and disappears. Mr Fet, the buddy you really wanna have by your side for a bar brawl, does all the work as usual. The other characters seemed lost in limbo, apart maybe for the politician who will die during this season. The old fart deciphers a satanic comic book. The good doctor drinks too much and doesn’t wash enough, so he smells as much as the series stinks. The hot hacker chick is nowhere to be seen (was she killed in season 2? No memory of that.). The annoying brat brushes his vampire’s mother hair in her basement. All very exciting stuff.

Maybe this season takes a turn for the better later on, but one’s patience was so severely tested by Season 2 that frankly, folks, one doesn’t give a damn. Life’s too short.

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Busanhaeng (Train to Busan – 2016)

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Working Class Zombi

The best zombi flick since Dawn of the Dead, Train to Busan reignites the proletarian potential of the walking dead by parachuting them without warning in a deliberately symbolic environment: a high speed train from Seoul to Busan, where the challenge is not to arrive in time, but alive. From the fifth minute on, it’s a 150′ very bleak joyride with no relief or plot gaps, full of of jaw-dropping scenes and images. It’s director Sang-ho Yeon’s first live action feature after five animes, it has broken all box office records in Korea and was screened, off the official selection, at the last Cannes Festival.

Korean movies have a history of violence, but it’s usually tempered by not-so-subtle humour or downright auteurism; what you feel watching this one is being hit at full speed by the flaming locomotive which makes a surprise appearance at some point: this is gut cinema, no pun intended.

So, zombis. We had more than enough of them in their myriad varieties, slow, fast, nazi, in love, alien or animal. All those predictable munchers gloomily forgot that zombi are by nature politic. George A. Romero set the template with Dawn of the Dead and its shopping mall besieged by herds of unwashed, greedy consumers – of manufactured goods or human flesh. Cinema owes to him to have elevated an otherwise empty voodoo doll into a powerful metaphor for the 99%. Romero, however, is far from having visual flair, he relies almost entirely on the strength of his concept. When vampires are sexual, decadent aristocrats and ghosts strictly personal affairs between who haunts and who’s haunted, zombi come with a specific meaning: they embody class struggle, and they manifest themselves “when there is no more place in hell”. They are the repressed sins of a crashing system, a parable of dog-eat-dog, greed gone mad.

The movie central character and one of its heroes is Seok Woo, an investment banker who, in the first five minutes, acts like a jerk with a subordinate, his estranged wife and his daughter, to whom he bought a third Wii station to buy her patience facing his emotional absence. He’s the product of predatory finance and that’s makes him a survivor. His painful, bloody awakening to empathy is at the movie core. Actor Yoo Gong is tall, slender and handsome. He starts as a robot and comes to deliver a richly nuanced range of emotions, some of them rather cruel, like the repressed satisfaction smile he has when everyone dies in the next car. That’s one problem solved, see.

But one, for quick, strong and smart he or she is, can’t hope to remain aloof in viscerally cannibalistic environment, when third class goons not only hate the gut of the first class passengers, but literally jump at their jugular. Sacrifices have to be made, and sacrifice is the underlying theme of the movie. Almost no one will survive, after some heroic gestures and some repulsive behaviours. There is one tense scene, in which the small group of “heroes” is blocked between two cars, one full of zombis and the other of “uncontaminated” humans. Both camps act the same, with gregarious rage fueled, in the “human” case, by the villain of the piece, who’s the CEO of a transport company. He’s the cunning predator, manipulating public opinion like the government is seen to do in a short, revelatory TV insert. Who cares who has to die, if he can makes it to Busan.

Driven by a crazy captain of industry, the ghost train rushes towards a dead end, an apt translation to the screen of our current state of affairs. The heroes all have a moment of dignity, even the evil boss. What Train to Busan achieves is much more than grim social commentary intersected by short, sudden bouts of gory massacre. Its characters are all but dumb, resourceful to the point of ingeniousness. Tchekhov would have gloated with mirth: everything which is introduced in the first act is used, one way or another, be it a cellphone, a luggage rack or the corporate drones’ ties. The way the epidemic propagates is treated with respect for logic, sight and sound being essential factors to live or die. And there is this short, terrific cut on zero gravity zombis floating like carnivorous fish in their derailing tank, maybe the strongest image of the way one feels in 2016, when dealing with an utterly inscrutable economic and political situation.

The last scene is Korean to the extreme with its evocation of the demilitarised zone between North and the South. “It’s so dark on the other side”, a sniper says, while aiming his rifle to the survivors. You bet it is.

It seems American and French studios are trying to outbid each other for the rights to a remake. Korea uses Alstom trains so we might be screened “Train to Perpignan” at some point in the future. This is nonsense. This movie is perfect as it is, let it be seen as such. Viewing essential.

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Lunch in Paris: Koko

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OK, OK, so?

Our food correspondant was lured to that place by Time Out Paris raving about it. Let it be known that Time Out reviews have to be taken with a pinch of salt, one severely missing from the place’s seasoning. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Situated near the Ourq canal, in an area where Paris displays its ongoing conflict between gentrification and humanitarian needs – the day we had lunch there a Syrian migrant camp was moved to better (we hope), less precarious location – Koko is nothing to write home about. No way that said migrants can afford it anyway.

Advertising itself like a Parisian izakaya, Koko is as Japanese as the spring rolls or the bimbimbap it has on its menu. Its “no frills” approach results in tables packed too close to each other and a bland decor, which has the merit to match the bland, unsmiling service to perfection. It’s a cafeteria, and not a great one. So, food.

Koko is best enjoyed for a drink with a couple of tapas if weather is on your side. The iced matcha is very good and the draft Kirin affordable. Two tapas were sampled: Sweet potato fries and marinated beef. The fries were OK, too bad they came back as Victoire’s main dish garniture. Beef was completely bland as if marinated in lukewarm tap water.

Main dishes were a rather nice beef tartare including – good idea – pine nuts, but severely lacking seasoning, and a tendon which tempura was adequate, but laid on a bed of rice one can enjoy in a canteen when the nice lady cooking has a bad hair day. A pinch of vinegar was sorely missed. There was some sort of dessert which left no recollection.

If you find yourself lost near the Jaurès métro, ot if you’re brave enough to wander there by yourself, Koko might be an option on a sunny day. Best thing about it is in one’s opinion is the walk along the canal you will take after a couple of tapas, in the direction of the Pavillon des Canaux where you can have coffee. With a 70€ check for two, it’s best avoided otherwise.

Food correspondent: Victoire V.

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Life’s Too Short: Zoo (2015 – )

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Patterson Of A…

This one will be short because, frankly, James Patterson. That cow is long overdue milking, and as much as is unfair the whole written work of that parade poodle of American airport authors contracted in two equally awful stinkers, Along Came A Spider and Kiss The Girls, when Michael Crichton or, hey, Robert Ludlum got the full Hollywood massage therapy, well, “go figure” would be one’s advice.

One thing is in favour of Patterson against say, Crichton, though. His novels are made of a myriad of three page chapters printed in the biggest font possible before being market-cornered as “for the visually challenged” and boldly acknowledges, on the cover and in gold-embossed letters no less, when someone else did most of the work. His more successful literary rival most probably employ a team of researchers, explaining why his novels taste so much like a bottom shelf pâté de foie gras, with masses of regurgitated pork surrounding a few shreds of dubious goose.

Having to choose between endless copy-paste dialogue exposition and a series concept written on a napkin, one guesses that you would opt for the later: so here you are watching the Zoo pilot, aka “what if animals revolt against the food chain as it is established, and start developing a grudge against men?”. Wait, this is way too long for a paper napkin, let’s go for “smart animals vs. stupid men”. This one is a winner, right?

Welcome to Bostwana, suspiciously looking like Indiana. Apart from the good-tempered natives, catering for the safari urges of white or evil Asian customers, here’s your stock American hero, son of a whistle-blower preaching animal revolt (can you see it coming already? If not the voice-over will guide you!) and his love interest, happening to be a French blogger betrayed by her use of the word “ergot”. Zut alors.

Ergo, those two just have half of the time generally devoted to hate each other in the rom-com template before getting trapped in Bostiana, digressing about “when do you die when you are getting eaten?”. Fast forward, she’s hurt by a lion, first bourbon, then the first aid kit, then another lion damages the radiator in order for our heroes to demonstrate than even wounded, a French blogger can list bullet points on lion attack, then outrun the king of animal to find shelter. All three lions of Bostiana, one means, since luckily they got to eat of couple of locals so the white bwanas can escape.

Anthropomorphic to the point of ludicrous, Zoo‘s pilot has the frankness of making absolutely no promises. The dreary parallel editing between “Bostwana” and LA, the fact that an experienced shooter can miss three times a lion in a van, lines like “the birds, the bees, the bears, the barracuda”, nothing at all commends it to our attention. Thank you for that, James Patterson, really, because you know, life’s too short.

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