Monday, June 30, 2014


As we continue into the summer movie season with superheroes, sequels and money-grubbing tentpoles, here arrives "Snowpiercer," a thrilling piece of international filmmaking that carries the gusto of any great blockbuster and the brains of the most sophisticated sci-fi dystopian fare. From visionary director Joon-ho Bong, who took the creature feature (2006's "The Host") and murder mystery (2009's "Mother") genres and turned them on their heads, he has created a wildly original and inventive take on a sociopolitical parable. Simply put: it's the action film everyone should be (and probably isn't) seeing and talking about right now.

It's the year 2031, and an attempt to counteract global warming has sent the world into an Ice Age with the only survivors boarding a guargantuan locomotive that circumvents the earth at a rate of one revolution per year. It is humanity's brave new world, a place severely divided into a harsh class system. The deprived, soot-covered 99 percent are forced to live in miserable conditions in the back of the train while the one percent enjoy decadent luxuries in the front of the train. Curtis (Chris Evans) is the reluctant hero of his fed-up cohorts in the back who've long been planning a prison break-styled revolt to charge their way to the front. The premise may sound like something you've seen before -- most notably the class system found in "The Hunger Games" franchise -- but that's where the familiarities begin and end.

What follows is a headlong rush into complete lunacy, a wild ride that could only work as well as it does because it comes from such a visually audacious filmmaker. The action sequences are propulsive and spectacular, each uniquely stylized as the revolters hack and slash their way through swarms of thugs; one of the scenes in particular is a heart-pounding stand-out. Beyond visually, what's most impressive is the crazy balancing act the film strikes in its tone; it's profoundly serious with brutal violence and then throws in spurts of pitch black hilarity.

Delivering the most laughs is Tilda Swinton who beams in her performance from what feels like a different planet entirely. The chameleon actress is batshit brilliant and knocks out every scene she's in. A close runner-up is Alison Pill as a delusional school teacher in a sequence that stands as the film's downright most bizarre. Chris Evans sheds his "Captain America" exterior to deliver a grounded, rugged performance while John Hurt is great as the peg-legged old man of wisdom. Octavia Spencer shines with ferocity and warmth while Jamie Bell plays a go-getting sidekick, and Kang-ho Song is superb as a drug-addicted securities expert.

Here's a film that pulls you into its strange, scary and wonderfully weird world and recaptures the feeling of truly transporting cinema. Think "The Matrix" -- it's that good. Joon-ho Bong doesn't shy away from reaching for greatness and comes out the other end with something to say, too. The film is not subtle about its powerful ideas and using the train as an allegory for the world we live in today. How far are we willing to go in order to exist comfortably in our society at the expense of so many suffering? "Snowpiercer" suggests a bleak reality.

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