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Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

What She said:

She

Snowpiercer is a limited release sci-fi thriller by Bong Joon Ho, who is known for the monster-horror flick, The Host.  This film definitely fits that movie’s style, and is actually Ho’s English-language debut as a director.  It’s gritty, graphic, and filled with odd quirks that’ll make you pause to make sense of.  Snowpiercer also tries to make some deeper judgments and criticisms of humanity and our future.

Here’s your basic premise.  In 2014 aka any day now, an experiment meant to help counteract global warming backfires.  The Earth is thrown into a massive ice age, nearly killing all of the planet’s inhabitants.  The only human survivors have boarded this huge train, called the Snowpiercer.  The thing runs on a track that circles the planet, and never, and I mean never, stops.  It was invented by a fella named Wilford who is now a total legend.

Anyway, fast forward to the year 2031 and we’re acquainted with the inhabitants of the back of the train.  They are living in squalor, fed nothing but these red gelatinous blocks—protein bars as they call them—and are demoralized by the hierarchy into feeling subhuman.  The higher ups don’t bother with them too much, except to periodically come steal their children.  Thirty-something Curtis Everett hatches a plan to revolt, knowing that there are likely others on board living a lot better than them and wanting to see Wilford at the front of the train.  He is able to recruit a prisoner Namgoong Minsu and his daughter Yona.  Minsu helped build the security system on the train, and so he knows how to override every latch and door to aid in their epic journey to the front.  But he won’t offer his services for free.  He wants to be paid with something called Kronole, a highly addictive chemically-derived drug.   The stuff is NASTY.

So, with his followers, including his mentor Gilliam, Curtis begins to force his way forward.  The group goes car by car, encountering resistance from guards, taking heavy casualties, and also being exposed to the rest of the passengers for the very first time.  It’s amazing to see this class system in action.  The more forward you get on the train, the more extravagant the people live.  Curtis also moves through a school car, where young children are “learning” aka being brainwashed into following the commands of Wilford.  That part is particularly eerie. 

Snowpiercer

There’s also this psychotic henchman named Franco the Elder who seems to have Curtis’ number.  The dude must be in his 50s and yet he’s a shockingly efficient killer.  He kind of reminds me of a terminator in that he just keeps going and going.  Just when you think he’s dead, he pops back up again in true terminator fashion to cause more harm to Curtis and his group. 

Not to give too much away, but as Curtis gets to the front, it is revealed that Minsu and his daughter have ulterior motives for helping him.  They want to blow a side door and get off the train.  They believe that the weather has finally warmed to a point where they can survive outside of Snowpiercer and can start new lives for themselves.  Before the film is out, there are plenty of surprise twists—some of them not exactly logical—and Curtis comes face-to-face with the real Wilford.

Chris Evans leads the pack as Curtis Everett.  He’s effective as a troubled, but calmly resilient leader.  Jamie Bell plays his right-hand man Edgar.  He’s not quite as level-headed as Curtis, and that seems to work to his disadvantage.  You may or may not recognize John Hurt as the old man Gilliam.  He’s got a peg-leg and seems to be falling apart physically.  Someone you’ll likely NOT recognize is Tilda Swinton.  She plays Mason, one of the higher ups on the train who does her best to keep those at the back “in their place.”  She’s got a silly accent and some horrific teeth.  She reminds me of a cartoon because she’s so larger than life.  Some other notables are Octavia Spencer as Tanya, a mother in search of her snatched child, and Ed Harris as Wilford.  When the door to the front of the locomotive opened and Wilford was revealed to be none other than Ed Harris, I laughed.  Honestly, I was already imagining him in the role.

I don’t think the acting is really the problem with this movie.  It’s solid on all accounts.  I think the only real problem I have with Snowpiercer is that it’s sometimes illogical and just a little too quirky.  There were moments that were funny—and I think they were meant to be funny—but they seemed oddly placed and awkward.  They were jarring to the point of sort of taking me out of the movie.  In that sense, I wish this had been more of a straight sci-fi/drama.  I think the quirkiness was meant to make this a little more campy, but other elements are so straightforward that I don’t think the two genres melded smoothly together. 

There’s a lot about this movie that I think was well done.  While the special effects were sometimes cartoonish, the actual sets were scary and authentic.  There was a darkness to the movie that I enjoyed, particularly the sections that took place toward the back of the train.  As we’re moved up the train, the sets physically become lighter and more cheery, but at the same time the tone of the film remained ominous.  Seeing people living in luxury while others suffer was a commentary of our often-oblivious society.  Perhaps a little too obvious of a statement, but one that was well-stated.  There was an eeriness to seeing our world shrunken and placed within the constraints of the setting of the Snowpiercer, and I found that fascinating.  But again, there were also some moments that I thought were just plain stupid, and that was off-putting.

Snowpiercer

The film has a relatively basic plot with some pretty complex twists that were slightly overdone, in my opinion.  I think Wilford’s revelation at the end of the movie was somewhat confusing and also unnecessary.  The same impact—if not more—could have been achieved without it.  The fight sequences were artfully done.  You can definitely see the Asian influence in that some of the moves were poetic to watch—people flying through the air in slow motion, contorting their bodies to assassinate with expert precision.  Some won’t like that kind of combat, particularly with a premise meant to be gritty and authentic.  I didn’t mind it too much because I was kind of expecting it, knowing some of the background of the film and its director. 

Ok, I know I’m rambling at this point.  Let’s sum this up by saying, Snowpiercer may not be for everyone.  There are definitely some who will hands-down LOVE it for all its quirks.  I felt torn about it.  I didn’t love all of it, but also appreciated what the filmmaker was trying to accomplish.  The film moved pretty quickly even though it was more than two hours long.  Overall, I didn’t hate the movie, but also wasn’t blown away.

Thumbs half up.

Snowpiercer

What He said:

He
Snowpiercer

In 2014, hey that’s this year, an experiment to counteract the effects of global warming goes awry and brings about a new ice age of catastrophic proportions. The only survivors live aboard a massive train that is powered by perpetual-motion. The passengers eat, sleep, and shit on the train. The train never stops and they never go outside.

Fast-forward and it is now 2031. In the years since the passengers have boarded the train,  a class system has evolved. Our story follows people in the back of the train. They are dirty, poorly fed – they are forced to eat these gross protein blocks and nothing else – and are crammed into space too small for their numbers.

They are led by an older man named Gilliam, though the real leader is Curtis. Curtis (Chris Evans) is the one who gets his hands dirty, the one people come to when they want something done. Gilliam (John Hurt) serves more as an advisor to Curtis as this point in his life.

This is the way things go. Each day, a bunch of guards, led by a strange woman named Mason (Tilda Swinton), come to the back of the train to distribute the food. The people in the back of the train don’t know exactly what is in the front, but it’s pretty obvious the people up there are privy to more amenities than they are themselves. They are tired of being sick, hungry, and dirty.

Most of them, Curtis included, want to make an attempt to seize control of the train. Curtis has been planning on doing something for a while. Each day the doors open, he peeks through to the rest of the cars in an attempt to see what’s there and also calculate how long they each take to open/close. He plans to use this information to lead a charge and needs to know how much time he has before they shut out any attempts to take the train. Gilliam is much more cautious, but allows Curtis to make the decision.

Most of the remainder of the movie is spent focusing on the war between the two classes of people for control of the train.
Class warfare, evil governments or authoritative figures are nothing new in science fiction. That doesn’t bother me though. I don’t care if a story is original or not. Original/not original has nothing to do with the execution. If a movie is executed well, what do I care if it’s not the most original premise? That wasn’t the problem with this movie.

Snowpiercer

The problem with this movie, well I had a few, was that I found it rather dull. I didn’t care about the characters or their struggle. It was a totally uninteresting story. Even the action was boring. It reminded me of The Raid (review here) in that sense. It was so violent and graphic and executed in such a matter of fact way that it was simply boring to watch.
The movie was also weird for the sake of being weird. Characters who looked and acted strangely had no rationale for their looks or actions. It just kept adding layer-after-layer of weirdness. It came off like they said, “We need things to be really strange” and just threw darts at ideas they had written on a wall and picked whatever the darts hit; with no regard for what part if played in the story.

This is a short review for me, and I apologize for that, but I honestly have nothing more to say about this movie. I couldn’t stand it. I thought it was extremely uninteresting, anti-climactic, and disappointing (I had heard good things). The execution was not great, but the story itself had no legs. I was thankful when this movie was over.

Diagnosis: Thumbs down.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on September 11, 2014. 

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