Snowpiercer and the Korean Invasion

I recently had the opportunity to catch a few movies in the theater. Snowpiercer is currently in theaters.

Snowpiercer

 

Snowpiercer (2013) РRated R

Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.”

I have really enjoyed a lot of Korean cinema over the last decade. My favorites have been “The Host”, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”, “I Saw the Devil”, and “Mother”.

I Saw the Devil” and “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” were directed by Kim Jee-woon. The former is a wonderfully dark and twisted tale of revenge and a serial killer. The latter is an epic Eastern Western. Both are currently available on instant Netflix. Obviously the success of these films caught the attention of Hollywood.

As with many successful Asian directors, Kim Jee-woon was brought over to direct a Hollywood picture – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback, The Last Stand. While there are some nice visual flourishes, The Last Stand is not very good and not just because of Johnny Knoxville.

The Host” (2006) and “Mother” were directed by Joon-ho Bong. The former is a wonderful horror tale about a pollution monster with some oddball humor. The latter is a dark movie about a mother’s efforts to clear her son of murder charges. The Host is currently available on instant Netflix.

Joon-ho Bong chose the more independent route of making an international picture, neither Korean nor American. Snowpiercer is an English-language film starring Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton. It also features some Korean sequences with Kang-ho Song, star of “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” and Ah-sung Ko, star of “The Host”.

The ever fickle Weinstein Company chose a new strategy for this release. Two weeks after the theatrical premiere, Snowpiercer was made available on Video on Demand. Since it takes about two weeks for independent films to trickle down to Asheville, this meant an almost simultaneous release here. While it may mean less revenue for them theatrically, Weinstein gets a much larger share of the profits from the VOD end.

I applaud whatever arrangements allow Joon-ho Bong and other directors to realize their visions without the obvious compromises caused by the Hollywood corporatization. Here I feel it results in the difference between The Last Stand and Snowpiercer, just as decades ago it resulted in the difference between John Woo’s The Killers and Hard-Boiled and his Hollywood movies like Windtalkers and the aptly named Paycheck.

Snowpiercer is a fantastic science fiction masterpiece. Every scene is wonderfully crafted. Each car on the train serves a different societal purpose. Special effects are omnipresent yet are understated and serve the story rather than detracting from it.

The movie has a lot of interesting things to say about the (inevitable) class system that develops but never becomes pedantic. It also has quite a number of interesting revelations along the way. I really enjoyed the power of self-delusion shown in several of the characters.

Acting is wonderful from the ensemble cast. They make Chris Evans quite scruffy and tone down his charisma so fits right in. Jaime Bell makes an earnest second-in-command for the revolution. John Hurt is a charmer and a scene stealer as is Tilda Swinton though she is perhaps a bit over the top. The aforementioned Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko are great as well despite speaking in Korean without subtitles (for the most part).

Snowpiercer is the second best film I have seen this year, behind only The Grand Budapest Hotel. Catch it in theaters if you can. If not, it is available through Amazon and other VOD services.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I wanted a special movie to take my wife to on our anniversary and Wes Anderson’s latest did not disappoint.

Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) РRated R

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.”

I would like to just put “Go see this. Now.” as the entire review. Fresh off his Oscar-nominated Moonrise Kingdom, writer/director/producer Wes Anderson has knocked it out of the park again.

One Line Review: Go see this. Now. Best film of the year thus far. Perhaps in toto. Oops that’s a lot of lines but you get the picture.

Wes Anderson the director, and his favorite cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman, have a fantastic eye for detail. This movie could be used to teach a master class on shot composition. Every frame is either jam-packed with detail or a masterwork in simplicity. I worry I may have missed some dialogue staring at the screen.

Wes Anderson the writer, together with co-writer Hugo Guinness, have composed a love letter to the golden age of fancy hotels and Hollywood. Profanity is used sparingly and, because of that, to good effect, earning the ‘R’ rating. Non-profanity language is elegant and refined, including such bygone terms as funicular.

The plot should not work at all as it is a flashback within a flashback and, at times, within another flashback. The visual style changes with each iteration as does the main character. The tone, which works surprisingly well, is part-farce, part-slapstick, with a dash of darkness as a fictionalized version of World War II hangs over the events

Ralph Fiennes gives a fantastic lead performance, far removed from his more recent villainous and/or dour turns. He is not called on to carry the movie but he obviously could. Previous Anderson alums populate the film to varying degrees. Look for Adrien Brody, Willem DaFoe, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray (himself a 7 time Anderson alum) to add quirk and verve to their parts. In addition, there is an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, and Jude Law in various parts. Were it not for Fiennes’ incredible performance, the movie would have been stolen by the two young actors, Saoirse Ronan as Agatha and Tony Revolori as Zero.

Seriously I cannot recommend this film enough. Anyone with a love of cinema should see it.