Snowpiercer (2013): The Cost of Revolution

     http://consequenceofsound.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/snowpiercer-poster.jpg

     “Snowpiercer” is one of the better films I’ve seen in the post-apocalyptic genre. It has consequences, high stakes and human characters who are relatable, as well as covering the many ways revolution can be viewed and the cost that comes with it, regardless. I’ll get into more details in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Joon Ho-Bong who was also one of the screenwriters, along with Kelly Masterson. “Snowpiercer” was produced by: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Jeong Tae-sung and Steven Nam.

    The story was based on the graphic Novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean Marc-Rochett.

     The premise is the near future has brought about an attempt to counter global warming that leads to the world freezing over. The survivors board the Snowpiercer and the story unfolds years later in a world where unequal power dynamic lead to the rich preying off of the poor and using them for labor to sustain the train. From here the story unfolds as the main character Curtis (Chris Evans) plots rebellion with his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) and second in command Edgar (Jamie Bell). From here the story unfolds as they rebellion ignites.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack does a great job of capturing the tension and the stakes throughout the film. From the first attack to get out of the back of the train…to the moments with the rich in the night club or high society…Marco Beltrami did a great job composing this score.

The Action – Bong Joon-ho knows how to film action and there are a lot of great sequences…from the first fight to get out of the back car, to being stalked in the sauna and the surprise attack the wealthy do on the poor where we learn guns weren’t destroyed and the bullets still exist. The action has purpose too as it drives the characters forward and kills many of them.

The Cinematography – This is a very beautiful movie. A lot of the scenes are cast in shadow which sticks with how dark the theme is. We learn of the evil the wealthy do to the poor and what the poor did to themselves when they first boarded the train. There are no heroes in this world and how the film is filmed captures this stark reality. Hong Kyung-pyo did a good job.

The Characters – There were many good characters in this. I’ll go into depth on who and why.

Mason – Mason is the Minister and primary antagonist until we meet Wilford the religious leader of the train (and the one manipulating everything). Mason is crafty and cowardly and makes a great antagonist. Tilda Swinton makes her weasily and viscous as well as a true believer in Wilford and the Holy Engine. She’s a character I would not have minded sticking around till the end, but she is killed by Curtis in revenge when she facilitates an ambush done by the rich’s thugs.

Tanya – Tanya is the closest we get to a good person as we see her caring for others as well her young son before Wilford’s second takes him away. She fights hard and is there to remind Curtis to keep going on and to lead when he loses his second in command. Her death is powerful for this reason as she never finds her son before she is killed by one of the more powerful thugs in the sauna. Octavia Spencer is wonderful.

Namgoong Minsu – Is one of the addicts who they first rescue who helps them open up the doors to the different cars as long as they provide him with Kronole for his addiction and rescue his daughter as well. He is a compelling character as he notices how the world is changing outside and that the ice melting. He knows they don’t need the train, but because his addiction makes him so selfish he is never listened to. He does make possible his daughters escape as a group attacks and they use the Kronole to make a bomb that destroys the train leaving her and Tanya’s son to find or create a new world. He is compelling character and Kang-ho Song does a good job.

Yona – Yona can see what’s coming which gives her the best bet for surviving at the end. She does manage to survive and rescues Tanya’s son with Curtis as well as getting the chance to hold her father one last time before the bomb goes off. She is an interesting character and I wish we’d gotten more time with her. She’s as smart as her father at hacking the doors. Ah-sung Ko did a great job.

Wilford – The man who accepts the status quo even though it’s unjust and upholds it through terror. Ed Harris makes him personable which makes him all the more frightening. He sees himself as being alone and that all people are expendable. He tries to get Curtis to take his place but fails as Curtis sees through the illusion when Yona arrives and he realizes what he’d become and endorse by being the leader. When the train is destroyed Wilford accepts it and respects those who beat him.

Gilliam – Is the one who worked with Wilford we learn and was using people and rebellions to keep the population balanced. He changes in the end though as he helps Curtis get beyond the halfway mark which leads to him getting killed. John Hurt does an amazing job as the heroic manipulator as we learn he gave his body to the poor to eat so they wouldn’t eat the children anymore. You really get why he’s respected so, which makes the betrayal felt.

Curtis – Chris Evans must be one of the best male actors in Hollywood now…I was impressed. This was “Winter Soldier” level acting and he played the anti-hero role so well. From the reason he trusted Gilliam (his guilt at having eaten people and known the young taste better) and his constant struggle to get his humanity back. He finds it in the end by destroying the unjust system and helping Yona and Tanya’s son escape. His complexity is part of what drives the story as he captures Mason but lets Edgar die in the process.

The Ending – The ending has a point and is all the stronger for it. It takes the corrupt system being destroyed for the children to have a life and it takes leaving the system to create a new one where freedom is found. Bong Joon-ho is truly a great storyteller. You felt the cost of revolution as so many innocents on both sides died even though the victimized poor were in the right.

Okay: Edgar – He’s just an angry rebellious guy. His character doesn’t have much depth but at least adds more dimension to Curtis.

The Thugs – There are a few powerful thugs but none of them really have personality. This I think takes away as we don’t know they serve the system. They are good action moments but they have no personality beyond cruelty.

     This is a movie I’d highly recommend. I want to check out this director’s other work now as the story was unique and powerful and had a point. From the reasons the poor rebelled, from how desperation can ruin the best of people but a single person living by example can change things…as well as the cost of change. It takes so many deaths for the train to finally stop and for people to notice that the train wasn’t needed anymore. Even Curtis misses the fact that the world is melting outside and life is coming back…because for so long the train is all he’s known. It is for this reason Wilford is able to manipulate him so well. Not only does it have a point but the music, characters and story are rich and rewarding. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Giver (2014): Bland Leads but Decent Adaptation

The_Giver_poster

The Giver is one of my favorite books from childhood, and the one that introduced me to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre. The story is introspective and reflective and reveals the horrors of the community very slowly. Lois Lowry is a master of the rising tension and the book does so really well. The movie is different. Here is a good article on the differences between the film and book: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/18/the_giver_movie_s_differences_from_the_book_how_it_compares_to_the_lois.html

“The Giver” film had quite a few people on board with it’s creation. From three producers (Jeff Bridges, Nikki Silver, Neil Koenigsburg) two screenplay writers (Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide) but thankfully only one director (much more and I could see this film lacking any coherence), Phillip Noyce.

The basic plot is still the same as the book. After the Great War, in 2048 a community is founded where there are no colors and emotions and the world is one of sameness. It is here our protagonist Jonas is introduced and is assigned the role of the Receiver and to eventually become the Giver (the one who holds all the emotions and memories of the past and present). Jonas finds things slowly getting complicated for him as the illusions of his world break down and he is faced with the Community is missing in it’s sameness. The story continues from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Giver – Jeff Bridges plays the Giver and he does an amazing job. We get to see the details of his backstory, such as his daughter Rosemary and the guilt he feels at giving her the memories of a child lost (euthanized) and how it is common in their world to keep the population in check. We see that he had a relationship with The Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep) and they have a great debate at the end on the value of emotion in which the Giver advocates for love against Streep’s fight for stability. It is a great scene that should have happened much earlier in the film. He is really what makes the film interesting and he does a great job as The Giver, than again I have never seen Jeff Bridges do a bad job, so this is more of his fantasticness.

The Chief Elder – In the book you don’t see her at all, and I wish we hadn’t had her get so involved this time. Streep is great, but her being so intrusive gay Jonas no reason to stay. She was not really good at giving people a desire to serve and want, which is a shame cause we get moments where she is like that. Still a great character, even if I’d have preferred her as force of nature or background force that doesn’t need to give orders…like in the book (The Elders).

When it’s Black and White – In the book there is not any color and for much of the film, and whenever we get the perspective of a community member, the film is filmed in black and white. I loved that and wish they’d kept it the entire time except for sparing moments. When it got all colorful the fact that it looks like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and every other Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Film became apparent. The black and white it what set it apart and part of what made the book so unique.

Gabriel – This baby is awesome! It cries at all the right moments and has some fantastic moments of awe and sorrow when Jonas has escaped. It was one tough baby and managed to be and feel how it was supposed to in all the different scenes. That is a feat in and of itself.

The Red Sled – The part of the book with the red sled is handled well, from Jonas’s first time having the memory of one to finding the house with the family and going down to meet them on the red sled with the baby Gabriel. I loved both those scenes.

Okay: Futuristic – The town is very futuristic, which didn’t quite lend itself to making the movie feel unique. There were drones, which are in every sci. fi. nowadays…at least the sparceness of the Home Units fit with the feel of the community and the injections were a neat update, instead of pills.

Jonas’s family – His Mom is the one who conforms, his Dad cares for and euthanizes children and his sister is represented as hope as she enjoys the joy he shares with her and remembers the thing he tells Gabriel, the baby their father takes in to try and save by giving more time.

Cons: The Three Leads – The first mistake was making a love triangle, I think they chose to though because the three leads cannot act, at all. Like it is pretty bad whenever they are on screen. So love triangle at leads adds drama to what for the most part is wooden acting.

Fiona – She just goes along with whatever Jonas wants for the most part and rebels even though she has no real experience with it. Her love doesn’t quite feel believable too and it’s not just because she hasn’t known it, Jonas’s family does alright in acting…she feels to flat, and nothing she does feels believable.

Asher – He is the friend who becomes a tool and decides to save Jonas because…reasons. He has a permanent scowl and when they say he’s the joker he isn’t funny. They should have got one of the Weasley twins for this role cause this guy didn’t cut it. His friendship ending didn’t feel real because it felt like it was never there, which made him protecting Jonas feel alien.

Jonas – What do you do when your lead has a blank expression for most of the movie? He has some good moments where he is excited with the Giver, but everything else felt so artificial. He was not the right person to choose for the lead. I really wanted to like his character, like I did in the books…but he was so bland that it was hard to form any sort of attachment. The scenes with the Giver only worked because it was Jeff Bridges who can carry a scene on his own. This was sad since this could have been Brenton Thwaites breakout role…though that goes for the other two teenage leads as well.

The Magic Emotion Wall – There is a magic emotion wall that once Jonas passes with Gabriel will give everyone back their emotions. It is a giant magic Mcguffin. I would have preferred the book ending honestly, in this they turn it into a revolution when before there wasn’t a way to reach anyone, people chose to be how they were in the end. This that is taken away and it is much more like a police state (drones and all) and the magic mcguffin wall gives an easy out. Also having them use to save Fiona who becomes his girlfriend in this was an easy play on emotion. It gives the happy ending to a book and story that is best left ambiguous. Jonas even says in the voiceover he has no idea if he’ll be returning back to the community. That would have been a good way to end it. Let people wonder if Jonas’s leaving prompted the beginning of change.

The Lack of Introspection – As seen by the Magic Emotion Wall Mcguffin and the Chief Elder arresting the Giver and Fiona because they helped Jonas escaped showed a major lack of introspection. Again, the people chose to be slaves in the books, it was comfortable, whenever Jonas introduced ideas people went away from him, he was the outsider who saw the truth of the world. Here anyone can know the truth after Jonas shows them something and passes the Magic Wall. Life isn’t that simple and especially a society formed after a great war should be much more entrenched in it’s ways that have worked for generations. This easy out cheapened the plot and made the problems above much more obvious and apparent.

This was an adaptation of one of my favorite novels that’s potential was not fully realized. It played with cool ideas that happened in the book (World in black and white, the red sled) but it needed better young actors and actresses for the leads and The Giver and The Chief Elder better functioned as influences than major characters directing events. It took away the choice of slavery in the books and gave us easy to consume tyranny, which honestly is used way too often in young apocalyptic fiction nowadays. Tyranny should be subtle and ignorance a choice…like in the book. So, would I recommend it?

I will say yes, though it is not nearly as good as the book (seriously, read the book) it is a good adaptation that is carried by Streep and Bridges. Giving them a lot of screentime, though it hurt how the story was shown us, strengthened the movie as a whole, cause the leads were terrible.

My final Score for this film is 7 / 10. Decent adaptation, worth it for the Chief Elder, Giver and the moments where it is true to the book.

Fist of the North Star (1986): Heads will Explode and a Hero’s Journey

Fist of the North Star (1986)

“Fist of the North Star,” is a film based off the manga series by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara. It was made into two anime series (from 1984-1988) in the middle of which this movie came out in 1986. There is also an American live action film of the same title too. This film was directed by Toyoo Ashida.

The story takes place on Apocalyptic Earth after nuclear weapons have destroyed everything and only the strongest survive. The main drama revolves around Ken known as the Fist of the North Star. The action takes off after the introduction of the world when his fiancee Yuria is taken by his former friend Shin. Ken is left for dead and cast off a mountain by his brother Raoh who wished to take his place in being the Fist of the North Star. From here the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The idea – Post apocalyptic or apocalyptic worlds have given rise to some of the greatest stories, especially in animation…from “Evangelion,” to “Akira,” and to many others I have yet to see. This is a world of mutants and magic fist attacks with some characters larger than life. It is an excellent idea that we are given to kick things off.

The Animation – The animation is fantastic! The characters are drawn with elongated style making their bodies and faces able to express a lot. Most have large muscles too, which fits the desert landscape of where it all takes place.

The Action – The movie is amazing with it’s action. It uses animation to push the boundaries as Ken’s attacks cause people’s heads to literally explode and body parts and blood are flying in most scenes…not to mention it kicks off a person melting in an atomic blast. It keeps that level of action through the movie.

Rei – Rei is a more feminine looking Hero and one of the more interesting characters in the movie. He teams up with Ken after Ken had saved some children and a village before as he was searching for the him…it turns out the man who had kidnapped his sister was Jagi who had taken Ken’s identity. His attack is cool is he creates chi energy that allows him to cut through limbs. He takes care of the kids that Ken saves. He also stands up to Raoh to save Yuria. He sees the big picture too and begs Ken not to fight Raoh so that the children and Julia can live.

Ragi – He’s insane and you can see that Ken letting him live in the past made him worse. His head is boiling and he breathes like Darth Vader. He fights to the end against Ken which is more than be said for Shin.

Raoh – Raoh the Conqueror is great, he shows that Shin is a nobody and manages to best Rei. His goal is stability through fear and his capture of Yuria is only to bring about Ken to defeat him. He is the brother with ambition and I wish the movie had given us more time with him and his conquest. We see him take out a nameless clan easily, but he is largely out of the picture until the last 30 minutes. He also killed his, Ragi’s and Ken’s father.

The Ending – It turns out that the children, specifically Lin becomes the hope for the future. Raoh ends the fight in order for her to be protected by Ken resolving the struggle between the brothers.  I liked that Raoh realized his pride and arrogance were destroying any chance of a future. It ends with the seeds growing and life returning to the dead world. Ken also find an Oasis where he finally can be with Yuria.

Okay: Ken – He is generic hero out to save his fiance. Nothing unique here…at least his design is a little interesting. He looks like Bruce Lee and he screams when he does his super fast multi-punch. Rei is much more interesting than him though, even though he doesn’t have the personal connection to the antagonists.

Shin – He has more depth than Ken in that he tries to win Yuria’s heart after he takes her from Ken, but he doesn’t do anything. He is there purely as a personal connection and motivation for the hero. Jagi was more interesting.

The Kids – Lin and Bat are pretty one dimensional. They play their role as the soul of humanity and human ingenuity though as Bat’s car saves Rei and Ken on a few occasions and Lin is the one who stops Raoh.

Cons: The Presentation of Women – There are a few good examples of them being given agency (the little girl Lin fighting back and helping Rei’s sister Airi find a reason to live) but more often than not they are victims or damsels. Isn’t the world ending supposed to give everyone a reason to fight? This was the most annoying thing about the film.

The Intro. Music – Is way too happy and idyllic given the world that this takes place and the actions that unfold…I don’t think it was meant ironically since this film doesn’t do irony.

The Final Fight – Raoh vs. Ken went on way too long. They destroy the city in the process and just doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

This was a pretty good anime film. I wouldn’t call it great because the protagonist just isn’t that interesting and it doesn’t do anything new with the tropes it uses. Also the overuse of damsels in distress doesn’t help…though Lin stopping Raoh is perfect to at least partially counter this. If you like classic anime or Kung Fu type films you will enjoy this. It has a pretty solid Heroes Journey and some great antagonists.

My final score for this film is 8.4 / 10. Pretty good, but not great.