July 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

Set some 18 years into the future, Snowpiercer imagines a world frozen over and dead after an attempt to reduce global warming goes awry. Nobody is left alive except for a thousand humans living on a giant train that is continually circumnavigating the world. An odd premise, to be sure, but one worth exploring, particularly when presented by Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho. Bong gave us his take on horror/monster movies with his brilliantly odd, “The Host” followed by the creepy and powerful “Mother.” This is his first film in 4 years and his first English language film but he’s lost none of his edgy weirdness. Where this film works, it does so beautifully, and where it fails, which is also does, it only does when Bong tries to overreach. Visually, the film is stunning, with scenes of snow-covered wastelands rushing past and with each car on the train having it’s own richly layered aesthetic. Like “The Host,” this film has an odd sense of humor some may find unsettling but that I found both biting and absurdist, as in the inexplicable presence of a sushi bar in the middle of one car. The best characters here were all played by women, including Ko Ah-sung (the young protagonist in “The Host”) as a clairvoyant drug addict, Alison Pill (“Scott Pilgrim Vs the World,” “Milk,” and the tv series “The Newsroom”) as an amazingly demented school teacher, and the ever brilliant Tilda Swinton (I don’t need to list her films, do I?). Swinton steals every scene she is in and the film is the most fun when she’s on screen. Beyond just the prosthetics she uses to mask her face, she transforms her body language and her voice to sound something like an off-her-rocker Margaret Thatcher. The men in the cast cannot hold a candle to these women and subsequently struggled to hold my interest. They are an adept enough crew: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris and John Hurt  (whose character’s name is Gilliam, which I am sure is a homage to Terry Gilliam, whose movies are so heavily influential to this one). Yet, for all of that skill, there is little they can do with characters so grounded in the mundane. Where the film flounders a bit is in trying to create an emotional weight that feels out-of-tone with the absurdity of the earlier half. Toward the end, Evans’s character has a monologue about the horrors he has seen/done that, I think, is supposed to be disturbing but felt phony. When the film embraced it’s ridiculousness bravely, it soared both as a metaphor and as a visual feast, right through to it’s baffling ending. When it tried to get contemplative and weighty, it went off the rails. Fortunately, I found more of the former than the latter in this innovative story. Let’s hope more filmmakers are willing to push the blockbuster genres into new territory.


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