Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Chris Evans Shines In This Great, Unique Korean Sci-Fi Action Film: Our Review of "Snowpiercer" (2014)

Directed By: Joon-ho Bong (The Host

Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Kang-ho Song, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris

Rating: R for violence, language and drug content

Run Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Synopsis: After a failed attempt to solve global-warming causes the whole plane to freeze in a matter of minutes, the surviving remnants of mankind all live aboard a futuristic train where a class system has evolved between the rich front cars and poor rear cars. A man named Curtis (Evans) has decided the time has come to lead a revolt against the front of the train, with a goal of getting further than any other previous revolt and taking control of the engine...or die trying.


Andrew: Hello dear readers! Sarah and I were able to catch two films during this past 4th of July weekend, one of which was the long-awaited Korean sci-fi/action film Snowpiercer starring Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

Snowpiercer is based on a French graphic novel called "Le Transperceneige" by Jacque Lob, and focuses on a post-apocalyptic scenario where mankind has inadvertently caused another ice age when they tried to fix global warming, and the only surviving humans all live on a gigantic train called Snowpiercer. The train circumnavigates the globe in a never-ending loop that takes one year to circle the whole globe. 

The populace of the train is separated into different classes - the rich, one-percenters live in the opulent front cars (as they actually had paid for their passage) while the poor, ninety-nine-percenters live in the destitute rear cars under the oppression of the front cars and the mysterious Wilford, who created the train.

Chris Evans plays Curtis, one of the many who forced their way onto the train to barely escape freezing to death, who has spent 17 years living in the back of the train, and he's had enough of it. Along with his younger sidekick, Edgar (Jamie Bell), and under the tutelage of an older man named Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis leads a rebellion in an attempt to take over the train's engine to free his people from the back of the train. It's all actually pretty straightforward and well-spelled out in the film.

Sarah, this was one that I know I was personally looking forward to as I had heard nothing but universal acclaim for it. Plus the trailer just looked awesome. So tell me, what were your thoughts going in to Snowpiercer and what do you think now that we've seen it?

Sarah: Well, I have to say I was a little indifferent to this movie going in. I was curious to see Evans in a very different role from his Captain America role, and now that we've seen it I have to say I was impressed! This whole movie was so different from anything that we normally see and with such a familiar cast, too! Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Alison Pill (HBO's The Newsroom), Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Ed Harris (Pain & Gain) just to name a few. Snowpiercer was an incredibly stylized movie that really had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. 

One of the things I loved about it the most was that there are a large number of fight sequences in this movie, but they are all performed inside this train. I don't know if you've been on a train lately, dear readers, but they are not large. The choreography in this film is really something to be marveled at.

Evans' Curtis (center) and his army of rear-car revolutionaries prepare to face a deadly squad of
Wilford's soldiers in one of the films biggest highlight scenes.

A: I'm glad to hear how much you liked it! Because I really loved this movie, for a lot of reasons, but those fight scenes in all the different train cars that you mentioned were certainly part of it. I think you're spot on in giving props to the choreography of those scenes - how they were designed, how they were executed, and how they looked in the final product. 

Something I found interesting while reading a recent Entertainment Weekly article about the movie is that the director, Joon-ho Bong, knew the exact angles and shots he wanted for each scene and so he only shot THOSE particular angles. That means for all those fight sequences they had everything detailed out to a T and then shot it and edited it specifically that way. I find that amazing.

S: It really is amazing because they had to be timed so perfectly, to not only get the desired shots, but to do it in a way so that no one got hurt in those confined spaced. It really says a lot for the talent behind this movie.

And can I just say that these people were whacked out of their minds?! The whole vibe of this movie is that most of the train's population is super crazy. Just out of their minds! It was a really strange feeling and you just never knew where the next crazy move was going to come from! But when you think about it, these people have been inside this train for 17 years. No fresh air and hardly any light? That would be enough to send anyone over the edge. And they brought that feeling across in the best way imaginable! It was brilliant.

A: I do agree that the filmmakers did a great job creating this dystopian future and a whole new civilization and culture that has grown on the titular train. All of the train cars have their own feeling, from the horribly oppressed rear cars, to the meat locker car, to the school car, to the sauna car, all the way up to the engine car. It's an entire world that's been created and we're shown, from top to bottom, what society is like in this world. I was completely absorbed into it.

And I like how you call the vibe of the movie "crazy," because it truly is. It's bonkers. Tilda Swinton's character is a prime example of that, as is the school car sequence, which I won't spoil here but I'll just say it was probably my favorite train car sequence we see. What was great about all of this was that it felt so un-American, and it literally kind of was! 

It's directed by one of South Korea's top directors, it was financed by a Korean production company so that they didn't have to go through Hollywood to get it made, and the cast is quite diverse in that it has American, English, Korean, and a mix of different European actors in the cast. I think that's great.

Speaking of the cast, let's talk about the individual cast members here. How great was Chris Evans in this movie?

S: He was really good! He starts as kind of your typical hero but you slowly start to learn throughout the movie that he is really just as part of the train system, much as Swinton's character is. It hasn't broken him the same way as her but he is still a broken man and relies on the existence of the train as much as the upper-class people. I felt like that was so important because it really shows the disillusion that has come over this whole train. You don't really know who is the real bad guys and who are just trying to survive. Because, really, they are all just victims of the torture of living in a moving prison. They're humanity's last breath and it's taking a huge toll on all of them.

A: I like the way you put that. What I loved about Evans' Curtis is that you're not entirely sure throughout the movie if he's really a good guy or not. He's the protagonist for sure, but we don't know his truest motivations other than he's sick of being in the back of the train. He himself doesn't believe that he's fit to be the leader of the train should they overthrow the mysterious Wilford, the man who created the train and runs it from the front like a modern day Wizard of Oz. All we know is that he was 17 when the world froze over and he's spent 17 more years on this train and it's changed him somehow. I liked that about him, it kind of had a Snake Plissken vibe. More than anything though, Evans continues to prove that he's an excellent leading man and can more than hold his own in action movies like this and his Marvel movies.

Curtis and his group intently watch a Wilford propaganda film being played for the children in the train's school car. Just one of the great examples of the unique set design and dichotomy between the front and rear cars.

I loved Swinton as Mason, the figurehead of sorts who deals with the back of the train for Wilford. She wore some fake teeth and a prothestic nose it looked like, so her appearance was pretty wacky to begin with, but her mannerisms and vocal inflections just enhanced her characters' weirdness. Her devotion to Wilford and the engine creeped me out as well. She was very effective in this role.

S: She's an actor that can really get lost in the role that she is cast. I think that makes her a formidable actress. She's so androgynous that she can really mold herself into whatever character she needs too. She's not inhibited by beauty. She can really be a raw character and I think this was an excellent example of that. I was thoroughly engrossed in her character. She and Evans really are the two main characters, I feel, in this film. The have a chemistry that is brought about through hate and distance in circumstance that really continues to drive home the dystopian feel. She really was brilliant and I think we will definitely see some Oscar love for her come Awards season. 

A: That would be pretty neat if she did because it was such an unusual role in such an unusual film. The whole cast did a great job here, really. About the only actor here that didn't carry his or her own weight was maybe Jamie Bell as Edgar, Curtis' younger sidekick. But even he did pretty well here, especially in the action sequences. Octavia Spencer brought some pathos to her grieving mother (children from the rear cars are routinely taken by Wilford's people to be used up front for mysterious reasons, with the son of Spencer's Tanya being taken and that kind of ignites Curtis to jump to action sooner rather than later). 

John Hurt is great as Curtis' mentor, Gilliam, who is the de facto leader of the rear cars; Ed Harris is pitch perfect as the mysterious Wilford; and I'm not very familiar with Kang-ho Song, but I really liked his work as Minsoo, one of the men who helped build the train and gets recruited by Curtis to help them get to the front. I can see why Joon-ho Bong works with him a lot.

S: It was such a creative cast. Not one that you would think to put together in a film like this. But there again, I think we see the effects of having a foreign director and a foreign production company work on it. They were able to look on it with fresh eyes, not through the Hollywood haze. I can appreciate that. 

So all in all, what are your final thoughts on this one?

A: This honestly is a little bit of a tough film to review for me because there's not a whole lot of it that I found negative, and therefore I can't really critique it too much. The set designs were amazing, the script was very smart and sharp, the acting was top notch, the music just enhanced the world that was created. If there's anything that I found negative is that the final act is a little different than the rest of the movie and kind of slows things down a bit, but I also found it to be very important to the overall story they were telling, so it's not truly a negative.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It's one of the smarter films we've seen since we've been reviewing films, what with it's take on class warfare, the intricate balance of this new world's ecosystem, etc. and I loved that about it. It also has some badass action scenes. I can certainly say that when we post our list of top films from the first half of this year, this movie will be on my list. I'll put it at that. After giving it a lot of thought, I'm going to give this one a 5/5. I think that highly of it.

Your final thoughts?

S: I have to say, this one was definitely different from my usual wheelhouse of likable movies, but I did enjoy it. There were times when I felt the violence and graphicness of the whole thing was a little one-noted, but overall I was intrigued, Definitely one to check out in the theaters. It's a movie on the grand scale but set in such an intimate setting. I'm going to give it a 4.5/5.

FINAL VERDICT: A must-see in theatres, and one we'll own someday!

(Individual Scores - S: 4.5/5  A: 5/5)

Photo Courtesy: filmoria.co.ukathenacinema.comscreenrant.com

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