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Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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Hail, Caesar!

Snowpiercer (2014)

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Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.

Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.

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In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.

On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.

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Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.

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On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.

In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.

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While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.

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Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.

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In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.

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While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.

Snowpiercer: 8 out of 10.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

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Director and writer Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a peculiar film regarding vampirism. And, as it most commonly is when submitting oneself to a piece from Jarmusch’s body of work, it’s a tough beast to tame. It tackles all the vampiric themes one would expect, undying love, an unquenchable thirst for healthy vitals, eternal existence, and so on. Yet, it’s the fresh, atypical, achromatic reality he brings to the sub-genre that sets “Only Lovers Left Alive” apart from the pack. Jarmusch manages to create and capture these blood-sucker trademarks with such a genuine, almost non-fictional authenticity that the ideal of a vampire transcends the fantastical realm into our own.

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“Only Lovers Left Alive” is subtle, self-referential, inter-textual, allusive, and most importantly, intelligent. Exploding with an entrancing musical score, gloomy visuals, and an engulfing atmosphere. But perhaps what’s most surprising is the dark, sly, morbid sense of humour present throughout the film’s runtime. For example, our anti-hero consistently likens the general human population to “zombies” and our species technological advances have never seemed so insignificant. Caught somewhere between the complexity of electricity and the emergence of the smartphone, there’s no shortage of witty jabs at our futuristic gadgets and their controlling, outdated prowess.

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Not stopping at our achievements, “Only Lovers Left Alive” continues to shine a harsh light on humankind’s shortcomings. With the persistent bashing of our kinds stupidity for dismissing and cutting those down who propel us forward, those who think differently…like scientists, musicians, and philosophers…humanities faults are never far from prominent here. We’ve even managed to contaminate our own blood, which doesn’t sit well with those who bare fangs, as it poisons them, leading to an arduously slow, painful death. Forcing those who want to stay healthy into obtaining uncontaminated blood from a secure, reliable source, which is always risky. There’s symbolism oozing from Jarmusch’s latest, one must only look.

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I can see how being alive for centuries, watching mankind progress at a crawl, might be frustrating. Hell, I can barely stand where we are currently or even look at where we’re heading without buckling…but I digress. There’s a beautiful theory, apart from Einstein’s Theory of Entanglement in “Only Lovers Left Alive,” comparing blood and water as the basis for all life and sustenance, a kind of eternal currency, that’s absolutely transcendent. Make sure to gather all the pieces scattered throughout the dialogue to form the thesis when watching.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” has so much to offer, it needn’t be carried by its two leads, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Nevertheless, both Tom and Tilda can’t help but put the film on their backs. Hiddleston as Adam, a modern rock god, mopping around a gloomy apartment, suicidal, experimenting, and helplessly in love. Swinton as Eve, sniffing about for fresh sustenance, full of wisdom and love, “ruthless, brutal” as Hiddleston’s Adam claims in the film. Both look so lovely, calm, but underneath storms brew and an evil dormant. Hiddleston, who continues his rapid ascent to the mainstream, is nothing short of marvellous and Swinton matches her co-star stride for stride. Never faltering under the obscurity, complexity, and weight of “Only Lovers Left Alive,” Swinton and Hiddleston run the show.

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Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffery Wright, and William Hurt round out the cast and provide a much needed chaotic, grounded, human element to their cold-blooded, nocturnal co-stars and the film as a whole. Apart from Wasikowska, the supporting staff doesn’t garner much screen time, yet fulfill their limited duties with a very predictable capability. There’s a fear radiating from the supporting ensemble that the viewer can sympathize with, a need to tread lightly when in the company of these mysterious, stoic beings, which we can abide by. They’re never out of place or speak unless spoken to. Their performances are hypnotic, fragile, terrified.

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Not simply a story with characters and structure, rather, Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” has a point to make. Its unnerving, smart, haunting, and beautiful, a toxic cocktail that tastes too good to put down.

Only Lovers Left Alive: 8.5 out of 10.