REVIEW: Snowpiercer

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Snowpiercer
Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho
Written by: Bong Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob, Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand (graphic novel)
Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton

In Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-Ho and his production crew do something that is incredibly important in sci-fi films: they’ve mapped out a vision of their world down to every minute detail.  This is where, for the most part, other recent films that attempt to show the horrors of tomorrow go wrong.  Divergent and The Hunger Games films are competently made and their action sequences are sometimes thrillingly executed, but their generic, uninspired dystopias are almost interchangeable when arrows and bullets aren’t flying.

Snowpiercer is by no means a perfect film, but it is a transporting one.  Its success is in its environment, in its imagining of a  train that appears to be all that is left of civilization after an attempt to thwart global warming ended up freezing Earth and killing off nearly everything.  Here a person’s value in society is, for the most part, measured by how close they are to the engine. (Spoilers ahead) Someone at the tail of the train can have their arm frozen off for protesting when their child is dragged away for work, while those in the front eat sushi and have access to a train car that is a huge night club.

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Short Takes: Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Only Lovers Left Alive & More

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Edge of Tomorrow- This Tom Cruise action vehicle, directed by Doug Liman, is an occasionally thrilling summer spectacle.  Cruise plays Cage, a military talking head who is thrust into a world of combat that he isn’t prepared for.  The movie utilizes Normandy invasion imagery to ground its sci-fi trappings.  Cage is a man doomed to repeat the same beach invasion every time he is killed in combat.  He and Rita (a terrific Emily Blunt) are tasked with stopping the aliens from massacring everyone on Earth, restarting their mission every time Cage dies.

Liman keeps Cage’s repeating day varied, but occasionally indulges in redundant beach combat sequences.  The movie doesn’t develop its romance subplot well enough to create a satisfying payoff at the end, but Cruise and Blunt are reliably strong screen presences so it still sort of works.  Grade: C

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Short Takes: Amazing Spider-Man 2, Grand Budapest Hotel & more

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter Parker is much more interesting than Spider-Man in this sequel to a reboot.  In fact, Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his on-again, off-again soul mate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) seem to be acting out a completely different movie, a romance with genuine warmth and feeling.  The rest of the movie is a straightforward superhero mash-up, with generically assembled fight sequences and standard villain templates (maniacal corporate brat, vengeful outcast, Russian gangster).  It’s fairly easy to see where director Marc Webb’s heart was while making this mega-budget spectacle, but there are too many movies here trying to cram into one. Grade: C

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SPOTLIGHT: Tilda Swinton

One of the most wildly talented performers working today, Tilda Swinton brings the utmost care to every movie character she portrays.  Whether it’s glossy Hollywood productions like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, intense indie grime like Julia or a seductive romance like the Italian drama I Am Love, Swinton truly transforms on the screen.  She makes every character, no matter how weird and despicable, inescapably human.  Often pidgeonholed as an Ice Queen after playing them (sometimes literally) in movies like Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton and The Chronicles of Narnia, the truth is that Swinton simply has more emotional range and capacity for risk-taking than anyone else currently working in her profession.

Michael Clayton- Movies like this don’t intend to become a showcase for acting, yet Swinton steals every scene she is in, Clooney be damned.  As cutthroat corporate executive Karen Crowder, Swinton shows us a woman whose every ferocious stroke is driven by desperation.  For every scene showcasing her aggressiveness,  there is one that undermines it, including the legendary final showdown between her and the title character.

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REVIEW: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear (screenplay), Lionel Shriver (novel)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller and Jasper Newell

Mothers are a fixture in many serial killer canons, in real life and in film.  Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is probably the most infamous momma’s boy killer, though she never makes an actual appearance.  We Need to Talk About Kevin, a startling fever dream of a movie from Lynne Ramsay, examines the mother of a boy who locks his school up and kills several other students.

That mother, Eva Khatchadourian, is played by Tilda Swinton with exactly the kind of wayward complexity and urgency you expect from the great actress.  Ramsay assaults the viewer with a kaleidoscope of terror, as Eva’s life switches from her short-haired days raising her son Kevin (played as a troubled child by Rock Duer and Jasper Newell and as a creepy teen by Ezra Miller) to her mid-length days living in shame after his crime.

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REVIEW: Fish Tank

Fish Tank
Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Written by: Andrea Arnold (screenplay)
Starring: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Harry Treadaway, and Kierston Wareing

Beginning with a head-on view of its protagonist surrounded by the blue walls of an abandoned apartment, Fish Tank explains its title almost right off the bat.  Mia, the 15-year-old girl occupying that frame, takes a little bit longer to get to know, though.

Director Andrea Arnold laces this confrontational tale of emerging adulthood and sexuality with vulgar language and despicable acts; more importantly, though, she fills it to the brim with sympathy.  Though Mia (Katie Jarvis) lives in the slums of Essex with her abusive mother and equally vulgar sister, she’ll be the first to tell you she’s not a victim.  In the first ten minutes, she headbutts a girl just for having the nerve to argue back at her and she attempts to free an imprisoned horse from a band of gypsies.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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