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Snowpiercer (R)




Snowpiercer (R)
At the Sofa-plex

07/17/14
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



 Captain America and Billy Elliot battle their way out of the steerage section of a train that carries the last remnant of life on Earth in Snowpiercer, a dystopian action movie from writer-director Joon-ho Bong of The Host and Mother fame.

Some 17 years ago, an attempt to slow global warming backfired and pushed the Earth into an ice age that quickly killed off most life on the planet. The remaining humans — and, it appears, just enough plant and animal life to feed them — ride on a massive train designed by an unseen, almost god-like inventor named Wilford. He keeps the eternal engine running, says the woman who shows up to keep the train's lower class in line. Mason (Tilda Swinton) tells the rag-covered, constantly hungery denziens of the end cars that they should be grateful for their Jell-O-looking black protein bars and not try to resist when, for example, people show up to take a few children once in a while. But Curtis (Chris Evans) isn't having it. He and his young friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) are organizing a rebellion that will, they hope, get them all the way to the front car where they can explain their demands for better living conditions to Wilford. With the mentoring of Gilliam (John Hurt) and a plan devised with help from a mysterious informant, Curtis and Edgar storm the prison car to break out Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song), the man who knows how to unlock the doors between each of the train's cars. In exchange for a drug, Namgoong and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko) go along with Curtis' group — which includes Tanya (Octavia Spencer), who is searching for her recently taken son — in their travels through the upper class cars on their way to Wilford.
Snowpiercer the movie, like the train with its aquarium car and sauna car, is an interesting collection of strangeness. Grittiness bumps up against a slightly campy dark fairy tale quality; very stylized violence (in particular, an extended fight scene featuring a small army of ax-wielding men in ski hats) occasionally results in genuine earned emotion; and socioeconomic commentary shares the screen with very comic-booky sci-fi nuttiness. (The movie is based on a comic book called Le Transperceneige, the English translation of which is a two-volume graphic novel called Snowpiercer). Tilda Swinton is all by herself an embodiment of the movies blend of tones — she is a terrifying enforcer, but, with her giant glasses and goofy dentures, she also has a cartoon villain quality.
For the most part, this dots-with-stripes kind of clashing of themes and ideas works. The movie could be shorter — though, being a good 30 minutes too long is the rule rather than the exception in most of your summer action movies and late-year Oscar hopefuls. The movie's own internal logic didn't always hold together for me, but it held together enough that I could buy into what I was watching. For me, the movie's biggest flaw was that it lacked a kind of tightness, and not just in terms of runtime but also in keeping up the momentum of the quest. As much as I found the world-building interesting, the movie on the balance probably needed a little more discipline when it came to spending time on the details of the world of the train. 
This meandering quality, while a little bit of a drag on the action, isn't a fatal flaw. Snowpiercer is still a fascinating entry in the world of dystopian action movies. It is the third in a recent spate of after-the-end-of-the-world movies I've seen (The Rover and this week's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and, not quite as bleak and hopeless as The Rover but not as Hollywood as Dawn, Snowpiercer travels somewhere in a quirky, better-than-average middle ground. B
Rated R for violence, language and drug content. Directed by Joon-ho Bong with a screenplay by Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson, Snowpiercer is distributed by Radius-TWC and is two hours and six minutes long. Snowpiercer is available via Comcast OnDemand, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming outlets and is screening in area theaters. 
 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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