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From Under A Rock: Snowpiercer

October 1, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Snowpiercer  

This is Aaron speaking, and 2014 holds special significance for me as a movie viewer. It was the first year where interest, availability and quality all hit at the same time for me to see hundreds of films in a given year, both old ones and new ones that might have escaped my notice. Today, we review a 2013 foreign movie that helped open my eyes to looking at works from around the globe.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael showed Aaron Face/Off. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock for Snowpiercer.

Released: July 29th, 2013
Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho
Written by: Bong Joon-Ho & Kelly Masterson
Chris Evans as Curtis
Tilda Swinton as Mason
Song Kang-Ho as Namgoong Minsu
Jamie Bell as Edgar
John Hurt as Gilliam
Ed Harris as Minister Wilford

Aaron Hubbard: Snowpiercer is the kind of movie that’s designed for this column. It’s under the radar, it’s enjoyable and unique, and it has a lot to unpack. Until I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, I was convinced this would be my favorite sci-fiaction movie of the decade. It’s exactly the kind of movie you want to share with friends.

Michael Ornelas: And I’m quite glad that you decided to do exactly that. I thought this movie was pretty close to perfect, and the only excuse I had for not seeing it sooner was that the poster/DVD cover looked generic. It still does, but you know what they say about judging things by their packaging…
Forward Momentum
Aaron: This is a movie that really moves. Aside from the early exposition, it very rarely stays in one place for very long. Being on a moving train in a post-apocalyptic snowy wasteland means we are always seeing new sets and new images. But it also has this claustrophobic feeling of being in a tight, inescapable space. That’s hard to manage, and it creates an atmosphere that is wholly unique to this film.

Michael: You had compared this to a video game in its staginess, and I felt it was very akin to an anime. Both of those feel like very apt comparisons, and are achieved by the momentum and pace this movie sets out with. We never revisit a past location, and I love that about this film. It also creates a great intrigue for what lies at the end. Once we got to the engine, I was in awe, because I felt like we finally reached the end of a journey. Hell, I even felt like I was a part of that journey, and that’s the true signed of an immersive moviegoing experience.

Aaron: Something I really appreciated is the left-to-right movement of the film; the way shots were constructed always kept geography consistent. The train moves left to right, the revolt starts on one end and ends at the other. Evans has several moments where he makes key decisions not through words, but by looking ahead, than behind, and then making a call. He always moved forward, sometimes taking a step back first, but always forward. And then there’s the end. Where the ultimate goal is… not where we expect it. It’s to Evans’ left. I love how the cinematography enforces all of the ideas.
No Wasted Detail
Michael: One of the things that drew me into this movie rather quickly was the introduction of its elements in ways I could just tell would be paid off later on down the track. Measuring the children’s height and limbs was peculiar, and then when Curtis gets to the engine and there’s no child to be seen, I knew something seriously sick was going down. The film called back upon itself at the most satisfying of moments (Mason being forced to eat a protein block, for instance). Every piece just fit together and it was absolutely orchestrated to do so. Snowpiercer was a very satisfying narrative, to say the least.

Aaron: I found it even more satisfying on this front the second time around. The last act has some pretty huge reveals, but now that I knew them I could see the hints a little more clearly. It’s really satisfying to see the wheels turning and setting up payoffs. Moments like Curtis asking Edgar about his mom, or Mason talking about the ecosystem of the fish carried weight that weren’t there to begin with. But also moments that might seem odd, like the “useless guns” comment, feel more authentic when we see what the end goal is.

Michael: I also picked up on the radio system not being reliable when Mason was trying to contact those at the front. I actually don’t remember if that paid off in a specific way, but it did indicate that the top class had chinks in its armor. It lets you know that we’re dealing with a vulnerable enemy, and we can now get further behind our protagonist because the “impossible” odds seem a little bit more beatable.
Class Conflict
Aaron: This movie is primarily about class conflict, and it doesn’t attempt to be subtle about it. It’s an abused lower class revolting against the privileged upper class. But loudly announcing its subject matter is not a negative; it keeps it in the forefront of our minds so it can make more nuanced statements. The movie is unafraid to take shots at how education and religion can be manipulated to push a political agenda.

Michael: I was immediately reminded of the phrase “History is written by the winners” and it’s almost eerie how true that is. The scene with Alison Pill as the school teacher was saddening in how indoctrinated those kids were. It was crucial that the hierarchy get overturned so that the balance of the world can go back to one of truth, if even for just a minute. Too many atrocities were committed in the name of preservation by Wilford’s clan that created a world I wouldn’t want anyone to have to live through. The fact that Curtis decided to do something about it drew me to his character right away, and Evans did a great job at that portrayal. I actually felt all the acting in this movie was spot-on and built this world from the ground-up, even if a lot of it was over-the-top.

Aaron: The reference point I keep coming back to is the Mad Max films. Their acting and presentation is over the top and the themes are out in the open. Sometimes that works, and this is definitely the case here. I also think it is interesting that the film ends with the train being wrecked. This film isn’t about correcting the system; it’s saying that everyone in the system is broken and we need to destroy it and start again. It’s a bleak viewpoint, obviously, but it works for this film.

Aaron: I loved Snowpiercer right away and I respect it even more the second time. Chris Evans is at his absolute best here, but the rest of the cast delivers as well. It doesn’t hurt that they have a great script to work with, and a ridiculously cool world to inhabit.


Michael: This is one of those movies that I have been looking forward to for quite some time and it didn’t disappoint. I knew next to nothing about it going in other than “a train” and “it’s awesome” and that was enough to pique my interest. This movie was unapologetically itself, and I appreciate that more than anything else it could have done. I’ve never seen something quite like it before, and I applaud originality. Cap that off, we had great performances, an airtight script, unique direction, and all these other facets of a “great movie” and so I can’t help but score this one rather highly. The only thing blocking it from a perfect score is the underwhelming CGI effects.


Aaron: I wish Evans had warned Jamie Bell about being in Fantastic Four movies.

Michael: You can’t win them all.

What are your favorite overlooked action films of the past few years?

Next week:

Michael: October can’t come soon enough. I’ve been waiting for us to go back to our SUPER SPOOKY MONTH OF FUARROR!! Let’s start it with a truly iconic horror classic.
Aaron: This is one I genuinely feel embarrassed to have not seen, and I look forward to checking it off of my list.

Michael: Pazuzu will haunt your dreams with one of the most unsettling jump scares of all time.

What horror films do you watch every year to usher in Halloween?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer

Michael’s Still Doing His Web Series!
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews a bouncy castle!

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for 580 films. I will steadily be adding reviews for them as well as creating various lists that anonymous internet commenters can vehemently disagree with!

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Bong Joon-Ho's dystopian action film delivers the goods on almost every level. It has a great script, fantastic actors, plenty of atmosphere and stylish action. But it also has plenty of thematic punch as well. If you haven't caught this one yet, it's one hype train worth boarding.