Tag Archives: John Hurt

Cinema-Maniac: Snowpiercer (2014) Review

In many ways Snowpiercer possess many traits that could have made it a disaster. It is a South Korean production with director Bong Joon-Ho making a film in a language he’s not accustomed too. The language barrier and in some cases studio interference can ruin what could have been a potentially great film with the director vision being tarnished. This often quite often when Hollywood wants international talent helming on their very own production with various degrees of success. However, as is the case with Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer the English language never once is an visable issue creating a film that show’s his prowess crafting an intellectual blockbuster.

Snowpiercer is set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Bleak from the start “Snowpiercer” holds nothing back in its narrative. Acquiring the barest of plot essentials progression is always made much like the titled train it never linger in one place. Our characters are given, their background are given, our setting is given, the function of the world is given, and the conflict to achieving a single goal drives everything forward. Mindful of its physical limitations (its all takes place in a train), the narrative of the film is linear and straightforward. Following the protagonists’ movement through the train as they proceed from one carriage to the next, encountering and defeating various adversaries along the way. It’s less a single narrative than a chain of linked connecting set pieces with a intellectual story that respects its audiences intelligent. Nothing about its subjects, themes, characters, morals, nor motivation are simplified.

There’s no romance and precious little in the way of character-development; these people don’t change, and neither, for the most part, does the world they inhabit. For the filmmaker as for the train, velocity and momentum are everything; nothing is allowed to distract from the immediate objective. In the same way our characters move forward so does the elements that were introduced. Carriages serves more than a location layered with meaning in specially how its people live, the role they serve, and history of “Snowpiercer” creation itself. Nothing about the film story feels like it’s pandering to a specific audience. It always has the audience wondering what’s going to happen next as it unexpected turn constantly surprises with twists that work. Pacing is another key element and even though it goes fast nothing is left untouched. Merely it’s reinforcing the urgency of the character endeavors to reach their goal and the dire situation at hand.

Filming an ambitious sci-fi in confined spaces is no small feat and director of photography Hong Kyung-pyo has done a magnificent job of bringing each of the train’s carriages to life with rich and eclectic cinematography. Bong’s camera stubbornly refuses to violate the claustrophobic geometry of the narrow train cars, visually reinforcing how defined and unyielding the path is from one end of Snowpiercer to the other. Combined with Ondrej Nekvasil’s excellent production design, Steve M. Choe’s layered editing and Marco Betrami’s evocative and multifaceted score, the film’s technical specs are a feast for the senses. Set pieces serve the narrative, but also provides thrill their unique take on familiar action scenes. Despite the confined and limited spacing on a train arguably the most technically accomplished is a large fight between two class faction. It’s a bloody fight and also one where the director isn’t shy on showing a weapon make impact utilizing lighting, long steady shots, and a person angle to show the brutal battle. Other set pieces far and few in between never match the large faction fight, but are just as equally creative and tense as the director never shies away killing off a character when he sees fit.

Leading man Chris Evans is secretive, noncommittal, yet ultimately a strong and resourceful leader – something the audience never honestly doubts for a second. Evan is compelling bringing to life a very complicated and difficult character. Under her false teeth, wig and pasty makeup, Tilda Swinton is uproarious as the train’s unhinged prime minister. Measured and full of delightful ticks, her memorable Yorkshire madam steals every scene she’s in. John Hurt’s performance as the elderly patriarch of the tail section is marked by raspy gravitas and a mournful gaze. Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho effortlessly keeps up with his English-speaking co-stars, strutting and shuffling about, providing comic relief and a dash of cool as the train’s incarcerated former chief of security.

Snowpiercer is a perfect sci-fi film offering everything you could possibly want; an intellectually fast pace story with subtle commentary, a dystopian future only it can offer, set pieces that thrills, an excellent cast that disappears into their roles, and plenty of entertainment. Technically impressive and narratively captivating there’s very little flaws to find being more than capable to stand proudly with the sci-fi genre best films.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Plague Dogs (2013) Movie Review

Martin Rosen goes unrecognized in the realm of filmmaking. He might have only directed and written two films, but finding any other animated film to compare “Watership Down” and “The Plague Dogs” to is nearly impossible. Rosen was an important pioneer in animation not only taking bold risks in his imagery, but narratively constructing and discussing subjects its genre is afraid to acknowledge. “The Plague Dogs” (just like “Watership Down”) is an important animated film that pushed it genre to show what it can pull off with no boundaries.

The Plague Dogs follows dogs Rowf and Snitter that escape from a laboratory and are hunted as possible carriers of the bubonic plague. Opening with a Dog struggling to stay afloat in a test chamber setups the film tone and past this opening it holds nothing back. The dogs whose journey we experience have the mannerism of actual dogs. Inexperienced and loyal to each other the dogs are unsure of the world, forced to reach deep inside to become survivals in harsh conditions, and discussing opposing views of a “master”. Snitter whose ideal of a master is one treated with respects as his companion while Rowf opposing view is one of cruelty serving nothing more than a tool for the “master”. There is truth be found in both characters despite being different species have regrets, dreams, tackling the harsh reality as best they can. They don’t have all the answers with their journey never guaranteeing they’ll be safe. Despite spouting English dialogue the dogs are never removed from reality. Characterizations of the animals are created with human characteristics, but through the viewpoints that makes sense through an animal; Rowf is a realist who thinks the world is cruel and there is no hope for a better life. Snitter is an optimist who, even under the worst conditions, is convinced that a master and a warm home is always just over the hill. The Tod, a fox who helps Snitter and Rowf find food, is an absolute opportunist. These thoughts make sense in nature staying true to survival of the fittest among the common living creature.

It’s not so much a film on the cruelty of animal testing, but the cruelty of the world. Doing so without asking us to leave out our personal lives in order for its aesthetic to ring true. Never does it hammer the question if animal testing is inhumane rather focusing on the more important if the cause of the action or action itself is more inhumane. It is worth eliminating another creature livelihood for our own purposes. The human point of view is given through conversations between farmers, townsfolk and researchers, which, along with some media reports, are all presented as voice overs as we watch the dogs do whatever they’re doing. For the most part, humans are kept as faceless, omnipresent entities. Having all the pieces connected it comes towards the ending. An ending that embodies the best in characters, emotions, and thought provoking mood that can bring tears to anyone. This tearful ending is earned made all the more powerful by our connections to our protagonists that will remain with the audience long after it ended.

Martin Rosen often depicts the protagonists as little more than tiny blips against the countryside, simultaneously taking in the grandeur of the rocky gorges and grassy hillsides while emphasizing a sense of helplessness, exposure and danger. The attention to detail in the backdrops provides the aura of realism and regional specificity. Integration is accomplished by the way of dynamic characters with static backgrounds. Footprints and impressions left in the snow are particularly notable. Another coup for Rosen’s team is the animal movement. They behave accurately like an animal from their rhythmic strides and subtle panting to their curious sniffing and twitchy shifts in attention. Rosen moves over these images with a camera that pans and tilts with relaxed reverence. He reserves canted shots for the laboratory interior to show the way it twists nature and brings life out of balance. On a few occasions his winding camera movements help put us on the meandering paths that trickle down the moors, though such unusual maneuvers must have made it hard to get the perspective and proportions right. Cast of characters is relatively small; for most of the movie, it’s just the two dogs and the fox, with additional dogs or humans popping up when they’re needed. Christopher Benjamin does an excellent job as Rowf, sounding hardened by years of torture, while as Snitter, John Hurt sounds appropriately frail and delirious. James Bolam is charming as The Tod, and brings a little bit of welcome humor to the grim tone film. Nigel Hawthorne and Patrick Stewart have small roles as a doctor and soldier, respectively. Patrick Gleeson’s score is suitably moody, while Alan Parsons provides the song “Time and Tide.” Although it sounds melancholy at the beginning, its gospel chorus is surprisingly upbeat, suggesting that there may be a little light at the end of the tunnel after all.

The Plague Dogs is a masterpiece incomparable to any other in its genre. Its grim color palette and harrowing story never once remove the idea of hope. Very few animated films look, feel, and tackle the issues “The Plague Dogs” does and even fewer can compared to it. Not taking the safe route “The Plague Dogs” displays tragedy in mature work of art where by the end have you thinking of the beauty of it all.

10/10

Trivia:
I was unable to obtain the specifics of what he input into the film, but director Brad Bird was listed in the credits as an animator. Visually and in tone the two couldn’t be further apart, yet when it comes to their stories it’s rather difficult to pick who’s the better storyteller as both have pushed their narrative beyond what its genre restraint them to.