Sunday, November 9, 2014

VOD: "Snowpiercer" review

They have been doing this for two decades now and so it's a wonder how they manage to run a successful business. The Weinstein brothers, especially Harvey, is nearly always at the center of attention whenever the Oscars come around. A number of their films has achieved great financial and critical success as well as a fair share of accolades. Most recently, Quentin Tarantino's last two films have both grossed over $300 million worldwide and the brothers have won the Oscar for Best Picture twice in the last four years (though it's been two years since their last win). They even look to be in position to win their third BP in five years, thanks to the strong buzz surrounding "The Imitation Game."

But it seems like Harvey, and his brother Bob, are straight-up gamblers. They bet on all the horses to find that one winner, then toss the rest aside before the others even get a chance to shine. It's a wonder why any filmmaker, who isn't Tarantino or a director of an Oscar-bait film, would want to work these guys. Time and time again, if Harvey Weinstein personally isn't crazy about your film, it gets shelved and then dumped into VOD. There was a fight to get "The Immigrant" on the big screen earlier this year and despite the high per-theater average, the Weinsteins still dumped the film on VOD weeks later.

But "The Immigrant" is a rather deliberately-paced drama (which I loved, mind you) so one could kinda understand where Harvey was coming from. But "Snowpiercer"? This crazily fast-paced action film starring Chris Evans aka Captain America? The dude who's starred in one of the highest grossing films of all-time? And is the head of his own franchise? You have that dude in this crazy action movie, directed by a highly-acclaimed South Korean director and what does Harvey do? He shelves the movie and dumps it on VOD. This is a movie that has otherwise grossed over $80 million worldwide. That's how little Harvey thinks of you, American audience.

OK, so I may have gotten sorta off-track here, but I had to get that off my chest. Because I recently caught "Snowpiercer" on Netflix and, given that it was released earlier this year, I felt obligated to review it. I didn't expect much from it because of the way it was handled, but considering the movie's been universally praised and, more importantly, considering how goddamn badass this movie is at times, it's a real head scratcher how this movie was handled.

There are movies nowadays that try to come off badass and fail, but "Snowpiercer" is not one of those films. This is a deftly-handled, action-packed brawl of a film that captures its general mayhem with the same amount of fury and control as "The Raid: Redemption," but with a much better story, better acting, and less emphasis on ultra-violence.

The movie is heavily symbolic and tackles themes such as individuality, class, and the fragility of humanity. It uses global warming as a backdrop. Really, within the first five minutes of the movie, you pretty much know what's going on and what will happen for the rest of the movie: an experiment to counteract global warming has nearly killed every human on Earth, the ones that have survived now live on this train that's equipped with a perpetual-motion engine and its tracks go all around the world. In the back of the train are the heavily-oppressed lower-class people who eat disgusting protein bars while the rich live in the front of the train and get to enjoy all the excesses of life.

The man at the very front of the train is who Curtis (Chris Evans) is after. Curtis lives in the back and ultimately winds up becoming the leader of his own revolution for "his people" to take the front of the train. But each car presents an entirely new, different, and dangerous challenge to he and his fellow lower-class passengers. But Curtis insists on making it to the front, no matter how many lives are lost.

What's fascinating about Bong Joon-ho's film is how Curtis, at first seems to be the hero of the film, but as time goes on, Curtis reveals a rather ugly side. He becomes so insistent on making it to the front of the train and killing the captain that he actually becomes less human and just as blood-thirsty as the people who've oppressed him. In that respect, "Snowpiercer" is a very thought-provoking film in spite of its non-stop action.

Yet I could not overlook just how exciting and intense the action is in this film. Bong Joon-ho handles these scenes brilliantly, always finding a new way to make them interesting so as to not make the film feel repetitive.

And the film is anchored by a strong performance from Chris Evans who reminds you that he's got some pretty impressive chops when he's not donning the tights in those Marvel films. He perfectly captures the darkness in his character, but also lets some light shine in, giving Curtis many layers as a result.

This movie is simply bonkers. It's an insane premise in the first place so the fact that it, ultimately, works is an accomplishment in itself. Things do get a bit heavy-handed towards the end and perhaps a little too clever for its own good. The abruptness of the film's ending does kind of feel a bit of a letdown even if it makes sense from a thematic standpoint. Nevertheless, this is a very good and solid action film with great performances not just from Evans, but also Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Song Kang-ho. I really enjoyed this movie, and you can catch the flick on Instant Netflix right now. It's unfortunate, however, that I wasn't able to enjoy this on the big screen. This is not some direct-to-DVD kinda movie, this is a top-notch production that happened to have been shelved by a person who has no idea how to market movies if they're not obvious Oscar contenders. Ah well.

Grade: B

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