Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:

Title: Snowpiercer

So It's July 4th And This Is Opening On ... Two Screens? In Houston, yes. Clearly Hollywood feels we're blockbustered out. Or maybe Harvey Weinstein is a petulant pain in the ass. You be the judge.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Snow Misers 0ut of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Basically a variation of this exchange from Futurama:

Fry: This snow is beautiful. I'm glad global warming never happened.
Leela: Actually, it did. But thank God nuclear winter canceled it out.

Tagline: "Fight your way to the front."

Better Tagline: "The Taking of Swinton One Two Three."


Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the distant year of ... whoa, 2014, the effects of climate change forces drastic measures, and an experimental atmospheric coolant is deployed (chemtrails! Alex Jones was right!) to counter it. The compound, "CW-7", works too well, and deep freezes all life on Earth except the inhabitants of Snowpiercer, a high-speed train doomed(?) to perpetually circumnavigate the globe. It's now 2031, and the poor living in the rear of the train, led by Curtis (Chris Evans), are preparing to revolt against the elites, led by Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton). To do it, they'll need the assistance of the drug-addled Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), who designed the train's security doors and is still kept alive, for some reason.

"Critical" Analysis: Snowpiercer is an impressive, visually arresting science fiction yarn featuring an intriguing premise and a cast that's surprisingly game for anything. It's also pretty damn ridiculous.

Director Bong Joon-Ho wastes little time setting the table. The One Percenters at the front enjoy all the luxuries available to those riding a Magical Train (the Sushi Car, the Jacuzzi Car, the Rave Car) while the poor bringing up the rear eat protein bars (don't ask) and try to hide their newborns from the scrutiny of the guards (again, don't ask).

The class warfare theme is the most obvious one, and played so broadly it is -- at times -- hard to take seriously. But Swinton is so fantastically over the top you can't help buying in. How else do we respond when she berates the tail-dwellers -- after someone throws a shoe at her -- by telling them, "This isn't a shoe; this is size 10 chaos?" She then has the offender's arm inserted through a hole in the side of the train and frozen off, like any great leader would.

One thing you do have to credit Joon-Ho (The Host, Memories of Murder) with is creating a wholly immersive post-apocalypse as desolate as anything Max Rockatansky endured, with the front cars reminiscent of Downunder from A Boy and His Dog. And what the hell, let's throw in bits of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Matrix for good measure. Indeed, what starts out as a seemingly straightforward, grungy dystopian yarn soon veers into phantasmagorical Brazil-esque territory.

One brief aside: in these scenarios, why would you even want to stay alive? You're packed in overcrowded squalor for almost two decades with no apparent hope of ever getting off? Just put a pillow over my face and get it over with.

The performances -- Swinton's and Evans' especially -- along with the richly realized setting are mostly enough to forgive the film's other flaws. It's an ambitious effort, with Joon-Ho's eye for black humor (the Last Cigarette in the World deserved a better send-off), but unless you go from the starting point that the movie takes place on some alternate Earth where governments united to build a globe-spanning train track and created a "Sacred Engine" for a bullet train during the Obama Administration, or where a group of unfortunates who've been mostly starved for 17 years could fight toe-to-toe with comparatively well-fed riot troops, you may have some reservations.

Having said that, I do recommend Snowpiercer, especially given the generally sorry state of current releases. After all, why am I reviewing Snowpiercer instead of, say, Tammy or Deliver Us from Evil? Because it's unfathomable to me that a sci-fi actioner starring Chris "Captain America" Evans wouldn't get a wide release, but that's Hollywood (or TWC) for you. Snowpiercer isn't perfect, but it is unlike anything in theaters this summer and deserves to be seen.

Snowpiercer is playing locally at the AMC 30 on Dunvale and the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park. For the love of God, go see this before you see Transformers: Age of Extinction.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar