Snowpiercer

Rating:

THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY

Main Cast: Chris Evans, John Hurt

Director: Joon-ho Bong

Mr. Pupkiss or Popkins or whatever his name was must have been incredibly impressed with my consummate dancing skills at our initial meeting for I had a call from the Dancing with the Stars people the next day asking me to report the studio early in the morning so they could begin shooting my first segment. I arranged a car for early the next morning and showed up fifteen minutes early for my call time. (I am nothing if not professional). I had offered to provide my own hair, wardrobe and make-up team but the show insisted on my using their staff. In an hour, I was coiffed, shined, spit polished and in a lovely toga dress of seafoam green, appearing, as always, an ever youthful thirty-nine.   I was then taken to the dance floor where I was introduced to a blond elf called Derek who is supposed to be my professional partner.   Now Vicki Lester does not require a professional partner and it became apparent, during a brief warm up, that he would be more liability than asset. Nevertheless, I was very polite to him and everyone else on set as we began a carefully choreographed quickstep routine.

At the lunch break, I called Madame Rose, my manager, as I feel like I am being treated as less than a song and dance legend and more as some sort of carnival freak and I haven’t quite morphed into Jessica Lange. Rose, the dear girl, suggested that I not hold back and instead surprise them with my amazing talent. I’ll take the dear girl at her word. I just need to find the perfect timing.   I then returned to the studio for our afternoon session. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Vera Charles is appearing on the same program as one of the other competitors. She was rehearsing on the next stage with some Latin lothario. The poor dear was attempting to do something that I think was a tango but looked more like the mating dance of the blue footed booby. Poor Vera always did have three left feet. She should never have left modern operetta.

I was quite breathless at the end of the day and so I had the car take me directly back to Chateau Maine where Normy had been exercising his culinary skills and surprised me with duck a la banane and endive salad before we repaired to the home theater with our nightcaps; Normy was working out some new Goldberg variations for bagpipe and bassoon on his Ipad and I was jotting down some ideas for a new theatrical project. Flipping through the offerings on Amazon Prime, we ran across Snowpiercer, a film that had international success but limited US release due to Harvey Weinstein’s attempts to alter the director’s intent and his refusal to promote it properly when director Joon-ho Bong (The Host) would not agree . I had heard good things about it when I was eavesdropping on a table of industry bigwigs at the Westwood Starbucks so we decided to give it a view.

Snowpiercer is a South Korean film based on a French graphic novel with a predominantly American and British cast making it a true polyglot. It begins present day, when an attempt to fix global warming goes horribly wrong and cools the earth to subarctic temperatures, killing off life as we know it. A remnant of the human race survives on a constantly moving supertrain which circles the now frozen globe on a never ending journey. The train and its motion provide heat and energy and protection to those aboard but should it ever come to a stop, the cold will win and humans will be extinct.

The very, very long train has a small elite who lodge in luxury in the forward cars and a cesspool of crowded, semi-starved humanity in the tail. The tail dwellers are abused by the guards of the elite who arrive occasionally and carry off children or those with special skills that the elite might want to make use of. Amongst the tail dwellers are Curtis (a nearly unrecognizable Chris Evans), our hero, his sidekick Edgar (Jamie Bell with a way too thick Irish brogue), the large black woman Tanya (Octavia Spencer), mother of one of the taken children, and the wise old oracle Gilliam (John Hurt). They reach their breaking point under the abuses of the sadistic guards and determine to fight their way forward and take control of the locomotive. They team up with Namgoong (Kang-ho Song) and his lady Yona (Ah-sung Ko) as he designed the doors and safeguards that keep the tail dwellers out of the forward reaches and with the help of a captured official Mason (Tilda Swinton), they begin to fight their way forward.   There are battles, betrayals, revelations, and sacrifices all while the train continues to hurtle forward through snowfields and avalanches.

I’m sure Mr. Weinstein, as one of the wealthy of the world, found the film very uncomfortable in its current form and wished it to be softened for American audiences as the whole thing is a socio-political allegory and stunning indictment of the current global economy in which a privileged few depend on the continued enslavement of the many for their luxuries. The train, Snowpiercer, is a microcosm of the world which must constantly move forward (the carbon based economy?) in order to maintain. Director (and screenwriter) Bong presents a searing indictment of the status quo, first in depicting the casual cruelties of the elite and later in stunning images of their life aboard the train and its stark contrast with what exists at the tail.   Bong is also not afraid to have a stark and somewhat ambiguous ending in which not everything is wrapped up with a neat bow and not everyone gets what they deserve.

I was incredibly taken by the look of the film, which comes across as a huge budget Hollywood blockbuster made on a fraction of the money they would spend. The CGI and miniature work is first rate and the production design by Ondrej Nekvasil captures the various train environments and creates a whole variety of feels within the confined dimensions of train cars. The music by Marco Beltrami also adds to the mood and tone.

The performances are first rate. Chris Evans, whom I have only seen in comic book roles in the past, gives a brooding and introspective performance as Curtis, a man with both drive and secrets. He is ably supported by old pros like John Hurt and Ed Harris as the mysterious engineer. Octavia Spencer also gives a very different character than her usual spunky sassy big beautiful black woman that she does so well. I might not have recognized her except for the eyes which there are no mistaking. The best performance in the film, however, comes from Korean actor Kang-ho Song. He creates a world weary sardonic man whom we immediately understand, even if all of his lines are in Korean (his lady friend helpfully translates when necessary). I will have to search out more of his work.

Snowpiercer is definitely worth a look; it fits into the current cycle of dystopian fiction but has a lot more to say than most and is for and about adults rather than too pretty teens and tweens.

Battering ram. Frozen arm. Cockroach clusters. Cannibalistic back story. Night vision fighting. Aquarium car. Line of hair dryers. Gratuitous cocktails. Machine gunning teacher. Spa battle. Limited matches. Avalanche.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine and her exploits, see our Movie Rewind introduction and her entire back catalog.=

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