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Snowpiercer - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-
Special Effects: B

Snowpiercer is not your run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic movie. Sure, it's a little contrived, and the dialogue is sporadically outright dumb, but these things go with the territory. And this movie has a unique sensibility, which moves organically from familiar industrial territory to a sleek gonzo bedlam, and the ride is fun as hell.

This is director and co-writer Joon-ho Bong's follow-up to The Host (2007), South Korea's answer (and superior vision) to Godzilla. Snowpiercer is neither better or worse, but it's certainly different, and cements a desire to see more wacked-out movies from this guy.

The story now is much more international in its reach, by nature of its concept: the opening credits reveal a chemical released into the atmosphere to help cool the planet has backfired, freezing the entire planet and killing all life on earth -- except for the precious few that have been allowed to board the Snowpiercer, a train holding all the planet's human survivors as it rattles non-stop around the globe. It's now 17 years into the future, and a clearly defined class system has developed, with the upper crust near the front and the overcrowded riffraff confined to the rear of the train. The cars dedicated to such things as water and food are located in the center.

A revolt is developing -- and not the first one in the train's history -- with grizzled Curtis as its reluctant leader. Curtis is played by Chris Evans, and if you're like me it will take a while before realizing, holy shit, that's Captain America. He is followed adoringly by Edgar (Jamie Bell), and also gets some help from Tanya (Octavia Spencer), who is incensed by her little boy getting snatched away for mysterious reasons. A sort of representative from the front, played with the usual giddy eccentricity (plus a whole lot of props and prosthetics) by Tilda Swinton, is the requisite tyrant. When those in the back act up, she serves as host to the punishment: forcing the guy's arm through a portal in the wall until it's frozen solid and then hammered right off the guy's body. If you can believe it, Swinton actually makes this scene rather funny.

Everyone in the back is filthy, in rags, many of them amputees for now-clear reasons, and fed rations of "protein blocks." It's a little like Dickens on a Train. Once the revolt gets underway, however, the bulk of the movie consists of the revolution making its way, car by car, to the front. After a fairly long amount of time spent exclusively at the rear, we finally start seeing steps up the social order with each car.

They reach a car that's an elementary school class, and that's when things get delightfully crazy. And I'm not just talking about the song the teacher (Alison Pill in a great cameo) cheerfully leads the children in singing, about how they'll all freeze and die if the engine stops, which I think is my new favorite song. Out of nowhere, we're treated to an action sequence that involves both surprise gunfire and chicken eggs.

Up until that point, Snowpiercer doesn't seem all that special. Oh, but this movie is special. Which of course is not the same as perfect. A whole lot of the back story makes no sense at all, and even the ending is a tad baffling. But seriously, who cares? Joon-ho Bong is offering a cinematic ride unparalleled in its unique excitements, with a healthy dose of twisted humor that consistently sneaks up on you.

Once Curtis makes it to the front, what he is met with is almost disappointingly similar to "The Architect" in The Matrix Reloaded. I say "almost," though, because in this case it's actually coherent. Any semblance of plausibility is too much to ask of a movie like this, as it's hardly even relevant to what the audience has come for, but the story unfolding before our eyes clicks together at this point, offering more fun twists and surprises.

And surprises are what this movie has in spades: made outside the limits of Hollywood, no character is safe from a potentially terrible fate. That alone creates a crackling energy that propels the story forward, just like the so-called "Rattling Ark" itself. You can't help but care about these many great characters, beautifully shot and directed in their succession of confined spaces. Snowpiercer has everything you could want from it: drama, action, humor, seamlessly blended. Its special effects seem a bit like they were done on a budget, but they only need get their point across and they serve that function. To call it a "thrill ride" seems a bit passé, except Joon-ho Bong moves the concept forward with a wild abandon that belies its organized precision.

(L-R) Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer shake things up on the SNOWPIERCER.

Overall: B+
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