TBT – Snowpiercer (2014)

Chris Evans, films, fucking beautiful, John Hurt, post-apocalyptic, reviews, TBT, Tilda Swinton

I have a bit of a problem guys: I’m in love with a man who is completely unattainable. That man is Chris Evans. It hasn’t always been this way. No no. Back in the Fantastic Four days I couldn’t have cared less. Even the first Captain American film didn’t do anything for me… I assume it’s down to the creepy tiny Steve CGI. Yeah, I happily denied any attraction to Chris Evans for years and even presented arguments with my friend about why Robert Downey Jr. was a more attractive member of the Avengers. Then bloody Winter Solider went and got really good and suddenly Chris Evans starts to look better and better. By the time Civil War came out I was hooked. Seeing him do interviews with his Gifted co-star kind of made my ovaries explode. I don’t know what’s happening to me. It was because of my deep-seated interest in Chris Evans that I was so desperate to see Snowpiercer. I knew very little about it but had heard great things. Unfortunately, that proved difficult because the bloody thing wasn’t released in UK cinemas. Then I managed to miss it on Netflix because I’m a bloody idiot. I became invigorated after seeing Okja earlier this week so went on a hunt to find a copy of Snowpiercer.

Now I’ve watched both Captain America and Snowpiercer, it’s safe to say I won’t be getting on a train with Chris Evans any time soon. It never seems to go well for his second in command. In the first his childhood friend Bucky Barnes fell to his death after being blasted out of the train. In Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Jamie Bell doesn’t exactly come out on top after saving Evans’ life. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the vast majority of humanity were killed in a new ice age. After spreading a cooling chemical over the Earth to combat global warming went terribly wrong, a number of humans were given passage on a constantly moving train which circles the globe and keeps them safe from the cold. The passengers are split into the elites at the front and the undesirables in the final carriages. The elite are given all the luxuries that the train has to offer whilst the rear-passengers are forced to survive on the dregs.

Understandably, they are pretty pissed off at this and are eager to take over the train for their own benefit. With the help of his elderly mentor, Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) plans to lead his fellow passengers through the train to the engine. Curtis wants to stand face-to-face with the train’s creator, Minister Wilford (Ed Harris) and find out what he is up to. Gilliam expects Curtis to take over driving the train and bring peace to the rear-carriages. To do this he must first free a prisoner, Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), who knows how to open the doors between carriages. They must fight their way through the train whilst being chased by guards. As they progress, Curtis finds out that there is more to the running of the train than meets the eye.

Snowpiercer is one of those refreshing films that takes something as pedestrian as a post-apocalyptic ice age and makes it utterly new. On the surface is sounds like something you’ve seen a thousand times: a band of disillusioned people band together to take over from their mysterious and uncaring leader. This film is so much more than that. Bong Joon-ho takes the conventions for this kind of film and uses them in ways that make them seem incredibly different. He’s had fun with the scenario and created a haunting and exciting narrative. It is the opposite of the usual big budget action movies that explode in your face without having much substance behind it. The scope is obviously fair limited because the action takes place on a train. It feels very claustrophobic and the action sequences fence you in further. Snowpiercer draws you in to its bizarre new world and presents something so completely different to anything you’ll ever have seen before. The shots that show the train travelling through a vast, snowy landscape are breathtaking and perfectly counter the dark and dingy interior of the rear-section of the train.

Like the train, the passengers are constantly moving forward but never getting anywhere. As they move further down the train we see carriages full of amazing little details. The car that has become the train’s greenhouse or the aquarium are breathtaking. This film is clever and so beautifully made that is demands multiple viewings. All I really wanted to do after I watched it was to sit down and watch it all again. It is down to the superb direction and an amazing cast that this film keeps moving. Chris Evans is a strong lead in the role and is given a greater chance to show depth than he ever was as Steve Rogers. As Curtis makes his way nearer the train we see startling revelations that Evan’s handles like a pro. Although, he comes a close second in terms of memorable performances thanks to Tilda Swinton’s turn as Minister Mason, the train’s second in command. She has the air of a smarmy politician but with the wicked streak of an out of control dictator. Swinton plays the character wonderfully and Mason becomes a spine-chilling adversary for Curtis.

The rest of the cast all play their own parts in making Snowpiercer so special. It’s an incredible film that should have been given a wider release. It is the antidote to every thoughtless and obnoxious action blockbuster that comes out each year. The film has been crafted by people who really care and want to make a compelling and important story. It is the kind of thing that feels so similar whilst also feeling so unusual. I’m so glad that I finally got round to seeing this but am also incredibly annoyed with myself that it took so bloody long. If you haven’t see it, then I suggest you hunt down a copy as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Fireman by Joe Hill

books, death, post-apocalyptic, reviews, Stephen King, well written

I’ve been ill the last few days so have basically been in bed since Sunday. Until today I’d barely spoken to another human being and have simply had the people on Netflix to keep me company. I’d love to say that I used my time to get some reading done but, I was so tired, I found it difficult to concentrate on the words on the page. I’m only a few chapters into The 7th Function of Language but I’m really looking forward to getting further. One of my most anticipated works for 2017. Hopefully, I’ll get my reading groove back and finish it soon. God know’s it’s taking me long enough to get to the end of novels these days. Although, I have finally finished another book and it only took me about 3 weeks. That still feels like far too long but it was a bloody long book. It average out as 40 pages a day, which still doesn’t feel like enough to me. How do people get into the habit of reading? I always find myself getting into a Netflix spiral and realising it’s far too late to start reading. And I don’t read at work because there are always too many people in the staff room. Anyway, the fact is I finished something and that is reason to celebrate. I always have another book to review and I’ve decided I need to include more book reviews on this blog. I am a badass Motherbooker after all.

You know, I feel kind of bad for Joe Hill. Not only has he, in only 3 novels, set himself up to be a big name in the future of horror fiction but he has done so having Stephen King as his father. You can imagine how often his books are compared to the ones his dad has released. I have even found myself guilty of describing this book as his version of The Stand. It’s a stupid and really unhelpful way to do as, despite sharing genes, the two have very different styles. Both are hugely talented writers but take on the horror genre in their own way. Hill is approaching from a more modern and creative way than the classic style his father has always favoured. So, this will be the last time that I mention King in this review. Well, hopefully the last time. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I have had my eye on The Fireman for a while now but, having seen how fucking huge the hardback is, I kept putting it off. Still, I needed something to read on my way back from London and only had my Kindle. It was the one eBook that I really wanted to read and I’m glad I did. Despite being an epic novel, The Fireman hardly ever felt like much of slog. It is based around the fantastic premise that a spore has been created that eventually causes people to die when they spontaneously burst into flame. It’s a horrifying idea that quickly leads to an utter breakdown of society. Those infected with ‘dragonscale’, as it is universally known, find themselves covered in black and gold markings making it impossible to hide. The rest of society become scared and eventually “cremation crews” start rounding up and disposing of the unclean. Those who are infected must do everything they can to survive… at least until they set on fire anyway.

The story follows a twenty-something nurse, Harper, who tries to use her talents to help people at the start of the outbreak. She is a kind, caring and sweet young woman who is a bit too obsessed with Mary Poppins and Disney films. She is happily married to Jakob, a writer, until the moment she first spots evidence of the spore. Instead of ending her life as she and Jakob had initially agreed to, Harper chooses to survive once she learns she is pregnant. Unfortunately, Jakob  has succumbed to the hysteria that has also infected society and decides Harper must die. Thankfully, the heroic Fireman, a mythical figure who has gained a reputation for saving the infected, gets Harper to the safety of a commune for the infected. But she finds herself getting herself into more danger as she gets closer to her due date.

The Fireman is one of those frustrating novels that gets you hooked on how well written and exciting the premise is. Hill manages to create the massive effects of the apocalypse in a quick and efficient way. He approaches it in a way that “normal” people probably would and shows us the horrors using public figures and celebrities. It’s easy to understand the enormity of the issue when you see JK Rowling getting shot, George Clooney bursting into flames and the White House burning down. The The only problem is, the rest of the novel tends to crawl along as the scope of what Hill is trying gets a bit out of control. Part of me loves that he doesn’t follow the traditional post-apocalyptic theme and spends a lot of time staying in one place. However, it could be a bit tighter and the ending could have been a little less obvious. Fairly early on, you know where the novel is going to end up but it takes so fucking long to get there.

Which would be fine if the characters were compelling enough to make it easy to ignore. Hill masterfully juggles a whole host of players in his line-up but none of them really make much of an impact. The titular Fireman has his moments but you never quite see why he deserves everyone’s love and respect. Then there’s Harper who quickly becomes an annoying parody and is far too repetitive. I spent most of the time wishing she could stand up for herself and show some real fire. She is a follower despite how much she tries to be a leader. I find it highly unlikely that she would have survived the situations she finds herself in. She, like Hill, is too preoccupied with her pop culture references to always grasp the true nature of the apocalypse in front of her.

However, I ultimately enjoyed The Fireman and, despite a fairly underwhelming ending, I enjoyed the lack of neat conclusion. Compared to something like The Road, Hill manages to give us constant glimpses of hope and love even in the end of days. There is always a glimmer of light along the way but that doesn’t mean that there should be a contrived and final ending. He is Stephen King’s son after all…. ah fuck.

TBT – Escape From LA (1996)

films, fucking funny, fucking sweet, fucking weird, future, Kurt Russell, post-apocalyptic, review, Steve Buscemi, TBT

One of my biggest fears before watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week was the change in Peter’s parentage. In the comics, Quill is the son of the Spartoi J’son. He’s a complicated character who eventually becomes a villain who puts a bounty on his son’s head. I can see why Marvel and James Gunn wanted to find an easier solution. That solution, as we now know, was to introduce Ego to the MCU. It initially like a bit of a risk but Kurt Russell’s character quickly became the most memorable Marvel villain in years. He revealed a super dark and sinister side and rocked Pete’s world for ever. Kurt Russell is fantastic in the role and it only got me keen to rewatch some of his classics. Now, it’s not like I have the greatest knowledge of all of Russell’s career but I know what I like. And what I like is Snake Plissken. He’s the gruff, rough anti-hero who rocked an eye-patch way before Samuel L. got in on the act. It might not be Russell’s finest hour but the two Escape films are some of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

The 1981 film, Escape from New York is one of John Carpenter’s best films. It’s a weird mess of an action film set in a futuristic New York city. It’s a fantastic watch and is brilliantly headed up by Kurt Russell as wanted criminal Snake Plissken. It’s writer/director teamed up with the actor to write a sequel that was released 15 years later. It’s safe to say that the sequel didn’t quite live up to the first film and audiences were left feeling disappointed. And I can kind of see why. On the face of it, Escape from LA is nowhere near as good as it’s predecessor. However, it just happens to be one of the best pulpy type parodies of all time.

For his return, Snake Plissken goes on a very similar journey to his last one but, this time, he’s in LA not New York. Genius. At the film opens, we learn that an Earthquake has left part of Los Angeles covered in water and the rest has been cut off so the worst members of society can be shipped off and left to their own devices. The rest of America is controlled by a Theocrat who believes it was God’s will to forsake the people of LA. When his daughter hijacks Air Force 3 and steals the codes to a series of satellites that can control and destroy every country in the world’s power supply. She then heads to island to meet her lover, its de facto ruler Cuervo Jones. Snake is charged with getting the codes back without worrying about the president’s daughter. If he doesn’t, the criminals stuck on the island will revolt and destroy the world. Oh, and the deadly virus that has been injected into Snake’s system will kill him.

So, it’s kind of the same story but with some slight changes. However, the film had a larger budget than the first film and is full of all sorts of CGI wizardry. Obviously that looks dated now but, even by 90s standards, it was always falling a bit short. This is much less of a problem than most seem to believe, though. Surely, it’s part of the point? This film doesn’t claim to be the best action film of all time. It’s a film that is determined to have fun with that premise and make it as loud, obnoxious and preposterous as possible. And that’s what is is. It’s not a clever or original film but it’s a film that you can’t help but enjoy. The plot is thin to allow Carpenter to have as much fun in the big set-pieces as possible. Why bother having a complicated plot when you could just watch Snake play basketball for his life? Who needs depth when you can watch Kurt Russell and co. descend over LA in gliders and shooting automatics at the people below?

Although, there is a certain amount of depth to this film. It asks important questions about morality and government that, certainly in this day and age, seem quite prescient. I mean, we’re dealing with a psychopathic autocrat who wants to get rid of the people he doesn’t see as truly American by building a massive wall and stationing guards all the way along it. Anyone who says this film doesn’t have depth or point is a moron. It’s just that every interesting and clever thing this film has to say is hidden behind the cheap tricks and attempt to push the genre to the limits. It’s all wrapped up in garish and fun packaging but this film really is something.