July 08, 2014

Podcast Episode 21: All Aboard The SNOWPIERCER And Praise Be To The Sacred Engine!

There hasn't been a lot to love at the theater so far this summer, and the few standouts like X-Men: Days Of Future Past or Godzilla, feel more like conditional victories than anything else.  Neither film is truly outstanding in its own right, but each exceeded audiences middling expectations.  It's increasingly rare, especially during these bombastic summer months, that we see something which truly catches us off guard and succeeds solely on the merits of the art on the screen.

Snowpiercer is just such a film.  Based upon a French graphic novel, it's the story of revolution and class warfare among the last known survivors of a global environmental disaster.  After efforts to curtail global warming lead to a new ice age, one small pocket of humanity survives aboard a massive train which circles the globe once a year, with affluent citizens living in comfort at the front of the train while the dregs subsist in squalor at the tail.  Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a party of revolutionaries who are determined to make it all the way forward and seize control of the engine, but the further forward they progress, the more it becomes clear that they have no idea the full scope of their rattling, rolling world.

The film is the English language debut of Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho, and much like Stoker, the analogous film from Park Chan-Wook (who serves as a producer here) the film manages maintain the singular and bizarre Korean sensibilities of the director without for one second threatening to alienate American audiences.  Of course it always helps when your lead character is played by Captain America himself.  This is a movie that's chock full of weird - one look at Tilda Swinton's character will assure you of that - but that's also what makes the film feel truly unique.  It's certainly not subtle in its messaging, depicting the struggle between the downtrodden heart of humanity and the cold, bloodless systems which constrain and destroy us in the name of our own welfare, ensuring that the fat get fatter while the rest of humanity starves to death.

But all that blunt social commentary is wrapped in a thrilling action movie that is staged and shot with breathtaking soul and beauty.  The night vision battle or the shoot out across the curve of the train tracks stand out as smart, inventive filmmaking, while the absurdity of the aquarium car sushi bar or Tilda Swinton's "shoes are not hats" speech are to keep the audience slightly off balance in the best possible way.  It's also a film that's unafraid to treat its audience as intelligent adults, withholding certain information for as long as possible and expecting you to actually pay attention for the full running time and connect some dots on your own.  And it's funny!  The classroom scene featuring a pregnant Allison Pill as teacher with an unsettlingly wide smile will go down as an all timer.

Snowpiercer is one helluva statement from Bong Joon-Ho, announcing him to American audiences with authority and cementing his place in pantheon of remarkable talents.  Jamie, Bart and I chat about all this and more in Episode 21 of the podcast, along with some kvetching about studios' compulsive need to fuck with the internet's collective head through deception and misinformation.

Note: Apologies for any muddied sound quality.  I'm still working on the audio engineering part of this whole crazy podcasting thing and while I think the last two weeks have been great in terms of content, the actual audio is not exactly ideal.  This episode was recorded in a different location than normal, and while I'm grateful to Jenna for providing us with both a quiet room and badass Vietnamese spring rolls (a.k.a. Asian burritos), it was essentially an empty wooden box with quite a bit of echo.  Rest assured, we're working on some solutions for the future that will not require my spending a big stupid pile of money.

Next week: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes!

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