300

July 15, 2014

Boarding the Hype Train: Snowpiercer

POLARIZING
Snowpiercer – Polarizing

I’m really not one to buy into hype. I know what I like and while I do seek out films that peak my interest, I seldom bow down to conformity and buy into things that people universally say is good. Namely, I don’t like “South Park”, I believe that Seth MacFarlane is overrated, the same goes for Zack Snyder, and when people beat on things that are universally “hated” I usually bring up a counterpoint to either pose a challenge that will force the attacker to turn defensive and either call me a dick, or simply slink away and talk sh*t behind my back, which I’m fine with. But as a reviewer, and a contributor to this site, I have to buy into hype sometimes in order to bring an audience to the site. It’s all about the views. This brings me to “Snowpiercer” one of the most-hyped films of 2013 that still hasn’t been widely distributed. It’s a polarizing film, no pun intended, that is full of allegories, pseudo-science, and reminds me of nearly every sci-fi/action film I’ve seen the past 20 years.

“Snowpiercer” takes place 18 years after the Earth has been frozen over due to a failed experiment that was supposed to solve the Global Warming crisis. The survivors of the world-wide freeze have all been placed on a high-speed train created by the Wilford Corporation that travels around the world on an endless loop. A social system has been put in place where the tail end of the train includes the poorest of the poor, including Captain America himself, Chris Evan, who plays Curtis, a man who has seen it all and is looking to start a revolution with the help of Tin-Tin (Jamie Bell), Kane from “Alien” (John Hurt) and a few other stars that will leave you wondering, “They’re in this movie?”

Of course I’m being snarky about this film, because at times it takes itself a little to seriously. And that isn’t a bad thing. “Snowpiercer” is supposed to be a social commentary about the folly of science and the way humans interact with each other in the time of crisis. It might even be fair to say that this might be one of the most important sci-fi films since “Children of Men.” The downside of “Snowpiercer” is that the commentary is extremely heavy-handed, and at the same time, almost an afterthought in some scenes. It’s almost like it’s trying to find a balance between the two, but can’t decide what kind of movie that it wants to be, and that is where it gets a little muddled.

This isn’t to say that the film isn’t good, there is actually a lot of good in “Snowpiercer.” If you took a Terry Gilliam film, took elements of “Cube,” “Children of Men,” “City of Lost Children,” “The Hunger Games,” “Bioshock,” “300,” and put it on a moving train, ta-da; “Snowpiercer.” The acting is top notch for an sci-fi/actioneer, including a performance by Tilda Swinton that SHOULD go down as one of the best of the year. The train itself is also a wonder to behold. You don’t often see multiple sets created for a film. It’s either done via green screen or practically in a pre-exsisting environment. There is craftsmanship in “Snowpiercer” and that is most appreciated where nothing is built by hand anymore, just computers. The set designer(s) should be highly commended for their work in this film.

However, with all that I like about “Snowpiercer” there are still problems with predictability, unfinished plot elements, and an ending that is simply “meh.” It’s a film with a lot of big ideas about the folly of science, how man interacts with each other, social hierarchy, and looking for hope in hopelessness, but it kind of boils itself down into an action film on a train that also reminds me of “The Raid.”

How will “Snowpiercer” be remembered by the masses? From what I’ve seen so far, it’s quite……polarizing. People seem to love it for it’s style, use of allegory, and production value. Other people hate it for it’s overuse of allegory and to be honest with you, simply because the film is being talked about by so many people. Sure, it’s a cynical perspective, but we live in cynical times where people are going to poke holes in anything that other people might enjoy. “Snowpiercer” isn’t perfect, and maybe about 20 minutes too long, but if you look past the idea that the film might be trying to say too much, it’s an enjoyable and all together original take on the post-apocalyptic film genre.

Fun Fact: “Snowpiercer” is based on the 1982 French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige.”

March 16, 2014

300: Rise Of An Empire

OVERACHIEVING 

It’s hard for me to imagine now that the tales of Leonidas and Xerxes and Spartan warriors are old hat.  I remember when Zack Snyder’s 2006 film 300 was something that no one knew bubkiss about.  That changed when it slaughtered the box office through strong word of mouth, making it one of the highest grossing R rated films ever made.  Since then, Lena Headey is a household name, Michael Fassbender is an Oscar nominee, and Gerard Butler has gone on to star in every type of failed romantic comedy ever conceived.  (Being catapulted, whether that be into the air or stardom, isn’t an exact science.) The brave 300 became a pop culture staple, which I often gauge by a character’s appearance in one of those horrid spoof movies.  So, I was skeptical when I heard that a sequel graphic novel was being created by the “not so sane anymore” Frank Miller and being turned into a film.  Why tread on old, and in my opinion, already poetically ended ground?  After some coaxing from, again, strong word of mouth, I put my apprehension aside and gave it a chance.  I am happy and very surprised to say that 300: Rise Of An Empire not only holds its own with the original 300, but supercedes it in some facets.  It is an OVERACHIEVING underdog that acknowledges and builds off of its roots.

What’s it about?  Well, here is probably the most interesting and well done thing about this film.  300: Rise Of An Empire fills in the gaps left behind by its predecessor 300.  As much as I love 300, the film skirts past a lot of chances to build up depth in the world it inhabits.  Hell, without Lena Headey’s brief storyline as Queen Gorgo, the film is practically a gloriously action packed montage of sex and violence.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Rise Of An Empire tries to do something done sneakily by Bourne Ultimatum, done brashly by Bourne Legacy, and done incomprehensibly by X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  It weaves its story around the events before, during and after the original.  The creation and rise of Xerxes, the Persian campaign taking place away from the Hot Gates, the steps taken to unite all of Greece.   All of these things done to not only strengthen the original 300 as a film, but elevate Rise Of An Empire as its own sturdy branch of a grand story.  So, this film is not a sequel.  It is a sidequel with an actual purpose.

Now don’t think that because I said this story fills in gaps that it is boring.  NOTHING could be further from the truth.  I haven’t fully quantified this, but I dare say that Rise Of An Empire has more swords, and blood, and death, and sex and destruction than 300.  The most famous shot in the original 300, my favorite shot in the original 300, is the “Crazyhorse” shot of Leonidas.  The one where he practically rips through the Persian front line single handed like a damn superhero.  Rise Of An Empire has two of these scenes just as epic, and one using AN ACTUAL HORSE!  Director Noam Murro, who had only worked on the indie film Smart People before this, really does a terrific job with these action scenes.  Though, this may be praise that deserves to fall on the head of the visual effects department or cinematographer.  Either way, rest easy if you think that Rise Of An Empire might play it safe.  It surely does not.

When it comes to performances in films like this, 300, Sin City, Dredd and the like, it isn’t really about being a great actor.  Though it doesn’t hurt.  It’s really about an actor or actress trying to be bold, to be memorable, to stand out.  It is very easy to disappear in a film focused mainly on style.  Gerard Butler and Headey and Fassbender and Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro knew how to play into the genre.  They used the somewhat campy material to their advantage instead of being overwhelmed by it.  The returning players to Rise Of An Empire have not forgotten to do this.  Headey, Santoro and even David Wenham are just as entertaining in this as they were before.  The new players, unfortunately, don’t manage to completely accomplish my theory of standing out.  Sullivan Stapleton handles his action scenes well, but he just never gripped me as someone I should follow.  The speeches and screams of inspiration that felt so genuine and right coming out of Butler’s mouth, feel somewhat hollow coming out of his.  A similar father and son storyline is used in Rise Of An Empire that I really began to enjoy.  However, it didn’t get enough meat to it as I would have liked.  The one exception to the newcomer performances comes from the always amazing Eva Green.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend that I don’t already adore Eva Green.  I’m not gonna pretend that I haven’t already declared her my favorite Bond Girl.  But trust me, it is not my biased exaggeration that this film BELONGS TO HER.  Her performance as Artemisia is easily the strongest performance in this film and the one everyone will talk about.  I think Green was born to play strong women.  Watching her, you can easily see her complete and utter fearlessness as an actor in every glare, and smirk, and bare naked fight/sex scene she has. (Yeah.  That happens.)  She completely embodies this character and makes even Xerxes’ ambition seem tame in comparison to her’s.  Green’s work as Morgan on the short-lived Starz series Camelot is comparable here, but Artemisia is Morgan turned up to 11.  Green is gonna absolutely own as Ava Lord in the other Frank Miller adaptation this year, A Dame To Kill For.

300: Rise Of An Empire fulfills its job as an enjoyable companion piece to Zack Snyder’s Spartan epic.  Whenever it tries to be different than its predecessor, it surprisingly thrives.  Don’t just be a witness…board the boats…paint your face in a remarkably similar Frank Castle Punisher pattern…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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