Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-Ho

Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-ho

 

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Over time a class system evolves on the train, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the back of the train. Tired of their poor living conditions, the riders in the back revolt, attempting to seize control of the engine.

First off, I love the international cast. This is the type of  international co-production that I like to see more of.  Considering the somber heavy tone of the story, it’s surprising that this movie was even made. Every actor fits their part and they all happen to be character actors in an ensemble piece.

Chris Evans makes an engaging lead, never letting his stardom get in the way of his character. Watching him play such a righteous character never once reminded me of Captain America, and that’s probably the best thing I can say. Tilda Swinton is wonderfully ridiculous. When she first appeared, it threw me off because it was so over-the-top. Her character seemed to belong in another film. I wondered if it was possible for someone like that to exist in that environment but as the story unfolded, Swinton’s commitment to her cartoonish portrayal changed my opinion.

Song Kang-Ho is always an entertaining presence. He is held back by a language barrier but that is not enough to contain his natural funniness. Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer both make a dramatic impact with their supporting roles. Alison Pill also has a memorable cameo that teeters between creepy and satirically hilarious.

Bong Joon-Ho tells a good proper social science fiction story. The metaphor of the train representing the hierarchy of social class was handled with subtlety. This could vary for other viewers, but the film’s ideas and themes never felt heavy for me. As the lower class move up each train car in a series of action set pieces, I found myself slowly detaching from what was going on and comfortably sinking into the film’s ideas (a problem I had with Edgar Wright’s The World’s End earlier this year). The story’s themes brought me back to the time when I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Animal Farm in high school. I thought about human nature, social class and the rich versus the poor, but never for too long because the characters were about to discover what’s in the next train car. The middle portion of the film does sag a bit, but Bong Joon-Ho delivers some nice twists and turns along the way.

I read the news about the Weinstein Company is trying to cut a shorter version of Snowpiercer for its upcoming American release. Even thinking in Harvey Weinstein’s terms (and believe me, witnessing the amount of Asian cinema has neutered by Weinstein for the last decade, I consider myself an expert),  I don’t see what he thinks Americans won’t understand about the social politics and story in Snowpiercer.

The only commercial concern that I can think of is the Korean language portions of the film because American audiences apparently dislike reading subtitles. Korean only takes up a small portion of the film. And actually, an universal translating device is aptly written into film for audiences that prefer to listen. That or Weinstein just wants to put down his authorial stamp for unearthing Asian cinema to the West. So don’t be patronized, if it’s available, please go see the original director’s version. It’s solid science fiction made with proper intentions by a cast and crew that are passionate about the material.

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Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson

Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

The film has a strong ensemble cast. The two leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward carry the film just fine. I believed their romance, connected with their loneliness and rooted for them. It’s been a while since Bruce Willis played a character. In America they call it character acting; the rest of the world just calls it acting. Don’t ask me why. But it was refreshing to see Willis play someone who functions at a lower volume compared to his larger-than-life tough guy action roles. It was also nice to see Edward Norton doing comedy and playing a klutzier character as well.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Moonrise Kingdom was its storybook aesthetic, which acts as the engine pumping a vibrant energy through the story. To list a few examples, the story is set in an enclosed world. A narrator delivers story information straight to the camera in a vocal tone that sounds like he’s instructing a child on how to use a toaster. The cinematography, with its camera movements, deliberately flattens the framing, subtly embodying the two-dimensional quality of a children’s storybook panel.

I liked the world that was created in the film. It was believable and at the same time contained a fairy-tale-like quality and a sense of wonder. As the two lead characters were trying to escape their home like a cartoon character trying to run out of the edges of a page, I could not have imagined what the outside world would have looked like. The world was just that well established. For example, product placement would have completely shattered the illusion of the world. Not that I was specifically looking for it, but I’m glad I do not recall any in the film.

There is a real sense of a community that’s attached to this place and I like that even the smaller characters all contribute to the action of the story rather than acting as mere background decoration. And for that, the characters earn their quirks.

The only other Wes Anderson work I have seen was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. So I maybe unqualified to say this, but Moonrise Kingdom is probably the most accessible Wes Anderson film. The film is rated PG-13, but I do believe that the film will play well to children (from 9-10 onwards, it does have a few dark moments), particularly as a way to reach children who have been orphaned or have experienced a broken family. It feels as though Wes Anderson made this movie for them.

I was entranced, laughed and it put me in a fuzzy warm mood by the end. Moonrise Kingdom proves how simple stories can still be powerful and it does not take complex story structures to engage and move an audience. 

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay

There are three Louis C.K. jokes about how parenting is the hardest job in the world, it is the only job you cannot quit and yet parents are never allowed to say it is hard in front of people. That idea taken to an extreme is the premise of We Need To Talk About Kevin.

What is that extreme? It is the worst child imaginable. The kid Kevin (played by Ezra Miller) in this movie is an evil cunt (excuse my French, but if you see this movie, you will understand) whose sole purpose is to hurt people without purpose. Why does he hurt people? He doesn’t even know, he just enjoys it with zero empathy. I hope Ezra Miller can get a date after the film’s release. Yes, it’s that kind of performance.

It’s funny how stories can take you places and make you feel things that would never be okay in real life. I remember watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona and remember rooting for Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johannson and Penelope Cruz’s odd threesome relationship because it made them all happy. I laughed, going “Damn you, Woody Allen for making me feel like this.” That’s what makes watching movies fun. And here’s the thing with this film: I wanted Kevin to die. I was thinking up horrible ways for him to die throughout the entire movie. The worst scenario I was wishing was Kevin’s mother Eva (played by Tilda Swinton) to curb stomp him and get it over with. We Need To Talk About Kevin took me to an unique place, an uncomfortable place sure, but somewhere I have never quite been – wanting a little child to die so her mom can be free of him.

Speaking of the mother, the story completely hangs on Tilda Swinton’s performance. Completely. There are scenes where the viewer is fully omitted from what she’s looking at, but we’re only allowed to interpret what it is through her facial reactions. She constantly plays two opposing emotions against each other. Her character Eva feels remorse for bringing this little motherfucker into existence but out of her duty as a mother she must stick by him. The ultimate tragedy is that Kevin came out of her womb. As a mother she is symbiotically connected to him (and the film underplays that as part of it’s unnerving tension) and therefore responsible for his actions, even though she completely probably wishes she never had him to begin with.

The soundscape in this film is very noteworthy. It represents Eva’s emotional state from her first person perspective. Much of the score is these dark tones, which helps physicalize experience Eva’s inner unexplainable turmoil. Throughout the film Kevin has a habit of doing little things with his hands that are unnerving: he’s mashing breakfast cereal into pieces, snapping Crayons in half, throwing jam/paint all over the place, rolling bread rolls into little balls as if he’s constantly picking at his mother’s patience. Contrastingly, Eva hands are constantly cleaning, wiping, scrapping, as if she’s trying to wipe the imprint of her son away. All these little sounds helps you experience what it’s like being right up close to Kevin and how anarchic and annoying he is. We experience her personal first-person version of hell and it’s an unnerving experience.

There’s a running motif with the colour red, it follows with Eva in her younger pre-Kevin years and eventually the color red appears along with Kevin. It’s meaning develops into different things as the story progresses along. It physicalized the symbiotic relationship between the mother and the son. It represented other things too, but I won’t go into it any further. Yes, spot the colour red!

Lynne Ramsay understands faces and how it can evoke a feeling like a landscape (Seriously, Google Ezra Miller’s face or look at his face above). I like this trait in a director. I can’t explain it.

This was very well done. There’s a lot of craft to telling a great story. I can’t recommend it more! Damn, I’m going to have to come up with a Top Ten List for 2011.

P.S. A reason to watch the end credits. This movie has a “Computer Virus Maker”.