Snowpiercer (R)

8 Stars

Dystopian societies are hip.

So are post-apocalyptic civilizations.

It’s rare to find them together without robots, space travel or undead.

Snowpiercer is based off a French sci-fi graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, which colloquially translates to “The Train of the Snow Land.”

And boy is it fun.

It’s available for HD Rental through iTunes and Amazon for $6.99, or a dollar more through Xfinity OnDemand.

This is South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s third film. Mother was released in 2009 after his creature feature The Host from 2006.

Which, far as subtitled scary flicks go, is not a bad film.

Unless foreign horror’s your wheelhouse, you can skip The Host, and move right along to Snowpiercer.

It’s Bong’s first English-speaking film, and although this is clear at times, it’s a remarkable experience.

Set entirely on a train circumventing the world, this post-doomsday thriller is riveting, intelligent and visually stunning.

Chris Evans is good as the protagonist. He’s catching a lot of critical flack for his performance. There’s a moment late in the movie where he delivers an emotional piece of dialogue that’s a bit jarring.

Perhaps a superior actor could have delivered the line better. I’d argue it wasn’t strong writing in the first place.

Other than that, Chris gets the job done.

The characters encounter quite a bit of combat, all of which involve intricate physical procedures. Between the battleship in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the blade car in Snowpiercer, Chris plays the centerpiece in two of the finest fights in cinematic history. And they were released within three months of each other.

When it comes to action sequences, the director does everything right. He utilizes long takes, different camera lenses, varied setting features, drastic changes in momentum, realistic physical contact, slow motion (there’s an outstanding sequence in which Evans dispatches several thugs with a felling axe), martial arts, weaponry, tag-teaming. The list goes on and on.

The supporting cast is great as well.

Jamie Bell, who you know from Billy Elliot, turns in a solid performance as the jokester best friend.

Upon reaching the classroom car, the schoolteacher’s played by Alison Pill. She, like Tilda Swinton, performs a quirksome role. Their characters are odd (in different ways) but the actresses pull it off.

Bong’s got Octavia Spencer pounding dudes with body shots, with fists and a piece of metal pipe on-screen!

It’s just delightful.

If you dig fights, Snowpiercer’s the flick to rent.

That being said, I think the ladies won’t like this as much. The story is thoroughly bleak and imperfect.

In fact, I agree with much of what the critics are saying. The boundary between reality and metaphor is blurry to the point of confusion.

The narrative’s allegorical which makes it difficult to connect with the characters on a human level.

Events unfold in a manner that feels more orchestrated than organic.

Despite its imperfection, the story is still thrilling and sweeps you up.

Just like the animated sequence describing the rail’s creation, this movie’s full of style.

This tendency doesn’t continue after the ending, though. So you can shut the movie off once the credits start to roll.

After reading up and carving thru all the confusion, the ending’s a tad bit dissatisfying. My buddy fell asleep, and I’m still not in love with it.

As a final note, there is an aspect of this story I find gross.

People respond to the grotesque in four ways: 1) Revulsion 2) Silent Distaste 3) Cool Indifference 4) Embracement.

I’m weak in this area. I’m a 2 but would rather be a 3, like my friend who watched Snowpiercer with me.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But my buddy disagrees.

We both agree, however, it’s totally worth the ride along the way.

So to the 1’s I suggest caution.

To the 2’s I say, “Power through, compadres.”

To the 3’s, keep chilling.

And to the 4’s, God help you.

Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

10 Stars

Don’t be fooled by my review.

Guardians of the Galaxy won’t help you achieve enlightenment, fall in love or lose weight.

Especially if you’re the chick who sits beside me, crushing a popcorn tub singlehanded.

But if you’re looking for a great movie this weekend, you won’t find anything better on the big screen. Guardians delivers what it promises, and more.

That being said.

As is always the case with Marvel Studios productions, some won’t enjoy it. Guardians isn’t part of the superhero genre, however.

It’s science fiction. None of the characters are ‘superheroes.’

Technically thus comprises the ragtag band: one human, two aliens (one genetically enhanced), one anthropomorphic raccoon and one humanoid plant.

It belongs in the intergalactic genre; the same barrel as Star Wars and Star Trek.

If that sounds displeasing, you may be in the same boat as the douchey dude two seats down from me.

The opening scene’s a tearjerker, and I’m ‘swept up,’ so to speak.

It takes place on Earth and involves nothing extraterrestrial. At the emotional climax he speaks.

“Is this when the raccoon shows up?” Douchey Dude asks the Popcorn Vacuum.

Not only is it unfunny and in bad taste, it’s illustrative of his mindset. He’s completely unwilling to buy in.

His wrap-up comment post-viewing is, “It was all corny.”

If he’s so above it, why go in the first place?

I try to avoid personal yarns but am endlessly astounded by the behavior of other adults. If you can’t let yourself enjoy the movie, then don’t go see it.

James Gunn, the writer/director is just a great guy. He’s been on the Adam Carolla Show twice recently. He’s enthusiastic, intelligent and wants to do the sequel if the first is received with public favor.

In his latest appearance on Carolla’s podcast, Gunn claims they cast Chris Pratt as the lead when the actor was out of shape. But it’s clear Pratt got physically fit by the time shooting rolled around.

Zoe Saldana is the queen of science fiction. She plays a major role in both of the more recent Star Treks and wears similar makeup in Avatar. Saldana’s phenomenal as Gamora, and you can tell she does a lot of her own stunts.

Plus she’s enchanting. It’s odd how lovable she can be with all that makeup on.

Bradley Cooper is almost unrecognizable as the voice of Rocket, the raccoon everybody’s been talking about. As per the usual, Cooper’s great.

This is Vin Diesel’s second voiceover role as a humanoid being. Not only is he the voice of Groot in Guardians, he’s also the robot in The Iron Giant (1999).

Karen Gillan’s performance is particularly noteworthy. She’s a Scottish actress who’s quite prevalent in Doctor Who, and played a role in last year’s Oculus.

Gillan’s terrifically menacing as the bionic woman. She’s creepy and evil and fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Hopefully we see more of her in the future.

It’s overall a balanced, vastly diverse cast of characters. The sum total of which makes for a well-acted movie.

Guardians does a lot of things right. The writing constantly defies convention and satirizes common sci-fi themes.

For example, when the heroic outlaws ask for help from the authorities, it’s a relief to see their call’s considered, rather than immediately dismissed.

Much like the humorous discussions of plan creation, Guardians masterfully navigates clichés.

Location and contextual details are presented in a cool and efficient fashion. Digital readouts accompany interstellar approach shots of planetary environments as the perspective transitions between settings.

The shooting, editing, cinematography, music and score are all impressive. I think it’s time we retire “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from all future soundtracks, though. That song belongs to Remember the Titans.

Despite some overcompensating laughter in the theater, the humor is strong and consistent.

Although the end credits leave much to be desired, the opening credits are informative and wildly entertaining.

There is a lot of action, both hand-to-hand and aerial combat. It’s well choreographed and thrilling.

I wonder what percentage of the on-screen material is CGI. It must be upwards of fifty, but it all looks realistic.

My only criticism regards the scene after the credits.

It’s a major disappointment if you don’t understand the reference. I’m almost twenty-five and despite my vague familiarity, I’m still outside the joke.

If the reference is slated toward an audience older than me, why can’t this movie be rated R?

I know all the answers to my question; they’re just infinitely dissatisfying.

And I was hoping for something that gets us looking forward to the sequel.

Regardless. It’s a tiny failure in an otherwise remarkable film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is cute, thrilling and fun.

It’s everything we can ask from PG-13.