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Tag: mad finance

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.

MONSTROMETER
MONEY    Monstrometer4
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer3
TIME    Monstrometer4

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Bastille Day (2016)

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B-Day

Yes, it’s formulaic, an odd couple of underdogs facing a vast conspiracy, the lonely American saving France. Yes its marketing in this country was severely hampered by the mad truck terrorist attack in Nice on July the 14th, which in ricochet delayed screening in some other countries. It should have been a hit in UK, considering the portrait it paints of contemporary Paris, a city only a few inches above Baghdad in terms of safety, riddled as it is by larceny, fundamentalism, riots and corruption. Oh, and naked women in the streets. Bastille Day nevertheless achieves quite a good deal in the packed, dense, urban thriller genre.

The setup goes like follows: a terrorist group intends to plunge Paris into chaos by manipulating traditional and electronic media. Their first strike is to have a mule dropping a bomb at the headquarters of the “French Nationalist Party”, but the girl gets cold feet when the building is not empty as expected. Her bag with the bomb inside is stolen by a pickpocket (Richard Madden), who discards it in a trash can, killing four people and making him the prime suspect in the process. As the pickpocket is a US citizen, the Paris branch of the CIA tasks free electron Sean Briar (Idriss Elba) to find him before the French Police does, in an increasingly tense situation as the terrorists follow up with their plan, triggering a city-wide state of unrest.

Bastille Day‘s screenplay is not bad, including three twists that can hardly considered as novel but serve a logical progression of the intrigue. The third twist actually resonates in our time and age; it is the third time in a row that street protest is connected to mad finance, as was the case in Money Monster and Jason Bourne, even though in this case the latter is not the cause of the former. The three main characters (including José Garcia as the Head of French Intelligence) are competently written and well acted. But what Bastille Day has that places him a notch above other thrillers in the same vein is the force of nature also known at Idriss Elba.

A wrecking ball with a golden heart, Elba bludgeons into the story like the unstoppable force he so convincingly embodies. In a Vertigo-inspired, vertigo-inducing roof top chase as in more intimate scenes in which he conveys credible menace as well as the occasional sparkle of humour, he’s impossible to doubt, impossible to resist. He even manages to fool French policemen into thinking he’s one of them by piping “Oui, je arrive”. So cute. He’s also very affable to ordinary people he come across during his investigation, most of them African French in suburbs or the Barbès area. The fact that Elba is black himself allows him a connection which cleverly bridges the cultural gap his American origin could entail (he tells the fable he’s a refugee from Belize, only to tersely state later on that he was born in Connecticut). But it is his sweetness which gets him through his investigation pitfalls, that and of course and the brute force he’s able to summon at will. “Pinky pumps?” offers the pickpocket when they close a deal, and Elba’s reaction makes that extraordinary desirable, even though you’re quite sure he would tear up your little finger without blinking.

Yes there are some “This is Paris, vin rouge, Louis Vuitton” dialogue, no the prime suspect never shaves his beard even though his picture is on every screen, yes the final confrontation is a bit of a letdown. But for his Anonymous, typically contemporary sacrifice during the National Reserve bravura scene, and some delectable use of the French vernacular (“Abrutis de merde!” being a personal favourite), Bastille Day is quite good. The lingering question, however, remains why make this kind of fiction in the first place if a brush with crude reality makes you chicken out of its release? How long will politically correct circumnavigate violence, when it had so abrasively eroded race, sex, work and ethics? The answer to that question, if there is one, certainly doesn’t lie with Bastille Day, but one is grateful to the movie to ask it, even involuntarily.

MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer4
LONELINESS   Monstrometer2
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer2
TIME   Monstrometer2

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Money Monster (2016)

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Occupy The Screen

If not a stylist in the slightest, Jodie Foster is a very smart lady and a capable director with a keen flair for tone. Both funny and utterly pessimistic, Money Monster brings welcome memories of (admittedly better) movies like Network, and there are much worse associations than this one. Presenting the alliance of computer trading and cable television as a weapon of mass destruction, of value as well as lives, Mrs Foster packs up a convincing case, if not escaping all traps of such a complex subject having to be laid out and resolved in 138 minutes, which by the way breeze by as if they were 98, one of the best possible compliments for a movie in our age of bloated freak shows.

The Ibis corporation took a plunge of 800 M$ after a “glitch” affected its high-speed trading, this mere weeks after Lee Gates, star anchor of the Money Monster cable programme, has deemed its share safer than any life insurance policy. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), one of the 99%, having lost everything, breaks in the TV studio, takes Gates hostage, put an explosive vest on him and asks for answers. They prove difficult to get, as Ibis’ CEO has vanished. Gates can only rely on himself, and on Patty Fenn, the studio director (Julia Roberts).

It is not useless to underline that the ibis is the animal form of the Egyptian God of Knowledge, due to its ability to make the difference between drinkable and corrupt water, a form of wisdom which all concerned are deprived of, intoxicated as they are with the promise of money acquired faster than the speed of light, thanks to inscrutable algorithms in a world shrunk to a few stock exchange places. Greed, once heralded as good, is still the same, though, and for lack of a better word, greed is a bulimic monster that cannot be satiated.

There is a measure of squeamishness in having close friends Clooney and Roberts sharing top billing. Both are consummate professionals, but it is hard not to think once or twice during Money Monster that they are not stretching their acting chops to a dangerous extent in it. Clooney is his usual jerk with a heart of gold and easy empathy to his fellow humans, whatever disturbed they are, and Roberts is her trademark strong woman whose inner vulnerability allow her to act noble instead of curt. They make the show, however, since the other actors are something of a white noise, except Emily Meade as Molly, the hostage taker’s girlfriend, who is brought on the air to mollify him and has one excellent, enraged scene.

Money Monster wears its ideas on its sleeve, but they are treated without naivety. On one hand Mrs Foster is obviously sympathetic to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and clearly thinks that unregulated finance is the enemy. If something catastrophic occurs, blame it on computer programming, on Europe, on the ways of the world. Never blame yourself for your mistakes regarding others as long as you make a load out of them. Last time one checked, this was the 21st century definition of capitalism, a battle of financial kaijus eradicating industrial sectors or countries alike. On the other hand, her movie is pessimistic as hell regarding the ability of the common man to make any change to this current state of affairs. There are a couple of chilling moments towards the end of the movie, one an enthusiastic flash mob marching in support of Kyle Budwell, only to vanish like a flock of sheep as a gun is fired, the other the immediate loss of interest for whatever the same had to say when his fate is sealed. Case closed, let’s have a commercial break. “What kind of programme will we have tomorrow?” ask Lee Gates to Penny, whom Drama Day has obviously brought together (again).

Ending up in memes and tweets like most things do whenever they start nowadays, Money Monster sums up in a rather tight bundle a sizable portion of what is going wrong in our wretched century, bringing short attention span disorder in the realm of terminal illness. We don’t have enough memory to process everything happening at the speed it is happening. Our short bursts of indignation are followed by long bouts of complacency. If money has always been the root of evil, it is now a very modern and capable monster indeed.

MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer4
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer2
TIME   Monstrometer3

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