Snowpiercer

A south Korean movie, directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host 2006) based on the screen play by Kelly Masterson (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, 2007) and Bong Joon-ho. The world has been destroyed by attempts to stop global warming which have gone totally wrong. Faced with the growing threat of global warming, an experimental new approach was developed, which entailed seeding the upper atmosphere with a chemical (CW7) to overcome the effects of global warming.

One of the first things you notice about this film is the cast. I have to admit, it is probably not the cast I would have picked, but that said, I would have been wrong. The casting works well and I wouldn’t change any of them. Behind the scenes, there is some discussion about The Weinstein Company taking out about 20 minutes of the film to suit western viewers. The movie is based on a French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”.

The film opens in the train, but with a narration giving us the history of the efforts to stop global warming which ultimately resulted in the destruction of civilisation by virtue of the CW7 working too well and forcing the world in to an ice age. We quickly learn that those on the train have been on it for 17 years, entirely self-contained. Life is dystopian for many and carefully managed and controlled overall. The train itself is a huge affair purposefully built by an eccentric transport mogul who had no confidence in the CW7 solution so he built a special train which linked in to the world’s rail transport system and provided a place of refuge for the select few, constantly travelling around the world, never stopping.

Never stopping has a price. In order to keep the train moving the passengers are carefully ordered. First class, standard and economy. We learn about the workings of the train and its society from the huddled masses in economy. As bad as conditions are, we are told they are “the lucky ones” as they got on the train and are still alive. For seventeen years these people have been in the windowless back carriages at the tail of the train. Things are not good. People are huddled in to any corner they can find. The background is explained to us through the eyes of those trapped in the back. There have been up-risings in the past, all of which have failed. One of the key aspects of the uprisings is getting out to the armoured carriages in to the next carriages on the train. The people are fed a stable diet of protein pars to keep them alive. The protein bars are provided by the “Train” We also notice that although these third class passengers are in rags there is a fully uniformed security force and also train crew.

Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014) plays the part of Curtis, he is the leader of the would-be rebellion. He must decide when to act and how to. Key to their plan is rescuing Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song, The Host, 2013) who is the security expert who designed the security systems for the train, keeping the carriages separate. The only problem is that he is a drug addled prisoner in the train’s prison carriage. Curtis together with his Lieutenants; Edgar, his second in command (Jamie Bell, Man on a Ledge, 2012)) sporting a strangely passable Irish accent who is the no-patience action man; and Gilliam, the older sage, respected by all and carrying the wounds of previous encounters. Discipline is savage, beatings are regular and extreme, often involving loss of limbs. Other rebellions have failed, they have looked at why and hopefully have a plan to overcome these issues.   In to the mix of this we see the “overlords” using these third-class passengers as nothing more than a resource to be taken from.

At one scene we see one person taken to the front of the train to provide musical entertainment for the upper classes. We later see him and others who have been taken, their minds’ washed to be compliant and subservient. Meanwhile children are being taken to the front and nobody knows why.

Authority on the train is in the person of Minister Monroe (Thilda Swinton, Adaptation, 2002) who is the voice of authority, endlessly engaging in a passive aggressive dominance over those in third class.   Eventually when they notice that the guards on the carriage actually have no ammunition in their weapons, the passengers rise-up. Using weapons and tools they made, they make their attack, first to the jail carriage where they rescue the security expert and his girlfriend. Using their skills they move forward first past the prison carriage, then they take the food and water carriages, revealing some of the nasty truths involved in life on the train. After a series of often bloody battles, against firstly the guards, then axe yielding black clad figures to then more armed guard and some very nasty people along the way. Eventually they make their way forward, glimpsing along the way how the rest of the upper-class passengers live. Ultimately they arrive at the Front, and meet Mr Wilford (Ed Harris, the Way Back 2010). Here talking with Wilford they rebels get an idea of just how perverted life has become on the train.

We are told as the film progresses that the key to survival is balance. There is plenty of food (for the privileged) the key is balancing the demands with supply at the right times and seasons. This even stretches to the punishment of the third class passengers, it is calculated that 74% must die. We have become used to video games producing tie-in movies, however this is a movie which almost feels like a video game despite not having one at its origin. Each Carriage is essentially a new level with new associated challenges for the rebels to overcome.

This movie could have been too busy, with so much cramped in to so tight a space, both physically and emotionally, but the characterisation works, Evans’ Curtis is very underplayed, what we know of him comes from revealing moments as the movie progresses, to ultimately a character we have confidence in as a leader. Swinton’s Monroe is a nasty piece of work showing nothing but disdain for the passengers through her passive aggressive control. We see just how lose control is later on as she is used to lead the rebels through the train. Those upper class people they pass are largely disgusted by what they see, interrupting their on-going lives. The food shortages present further back are not seen here.

The only obvious weakness that presents itself, is a slight continuity issue; where having established that the guards are out of ammunition we later see a full use of ammunition as the rebellion gathers pace, perhaps it is rationed to certain areas. The other slight weakness is the issue of blockages on the line, is it only now that these are causing problems, are they normal with the rebellion deflecting away from essential management of them?

When we eventually meet Wilford, having already gotten a background on him we see a person who is immediately comparable to “Christof” the show’s producer and “God-like” character. We see the same calm omnipotence here. There Characters are perhaps a little too similar, given the respective plots. Very smartly we are shown not just his power but also how fragile it all is, perhaps his character is more comparable to The Wizard from The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan). His power is based on what people think of him. Minister Monroe’s character shows us how the train’s front has almost taken on a mystical, even religious aspect, with Wilford being almost worshiped.

That said, this is an excellent movie with an excellent cast, Evans, gives one of his best roles, Swinton is almost unrecognisable, Bell and Hurt support magnificently. It should be pointed out that even additional supporting cast duties are taken up by well-known character-actors more than capable of supplying what is needed.

In the last scenes we see a polar bear; does this signify freedom, danger or the sub-text that the bear looks fed and, if it is fed, there is life of some sort, where there is life; there is hope. As viewers, Bong, quite deliberately allowed us to get to know those people surviving at the back of the train and what they have to endure, are we allowed to hope for their future.

This is very much a hybrid movie, merging the characterization of western film with the manic nature of some of Korea’s most successful outputs in recent years (The Good, The Bad and The Weird, Kin Jee-woon, 2008). There is violence, but it is a tool of the plot, especially in how the lower class passengers are treated and in one or two scenes it is quite graphic, but just on the right side of what is needed.

An excellent movie which could have been mind-numbingly bad in other hands.

Project Almanac

Director Dean Israelite’s first feature length movie works well for him. Opening with High-school kid, David Raskin (Jonny Weston, Insurgent 2015) making a video presentation to MIT for acceptance on one of their college programmes with the help of his two friends Quinn (Sam Lerner, Nobody Walks, 2014) and Adam (Allen Evangelista, Belas, 2013). The film is largely shot in POV (Point of view) format, that is always through a camcorder or such like always used by one of the kids. David’s sister Christina (Virginia Gardner, The Goldbergs. 2013) is the primary recorder. The POV format largely works, even if there are one or two sequences where it is not as successful.

Routing through some old belongings in the attic he comes across a video-camera once owned by his father who was killed in a car accident about 10 years ago. While looking at footage, David notices something, just a frame or two, but he notices it. Reviewing the home-movie in question it is clear David in in the movie as his 17year old self, with his 10yo self also there. Noticing that the David in the film was heading for the basement, they decide to check down there.

Now here is a significant weakness in the film, centred around a young technically gifted student, whose father was an engineer, he (David) only now goes down to the basement and “discovers” his father’s workshop and very quickly its secrets.

Pretty quickly they find the time machine, or at least the workings of it and all of the necessary blue-prints, and as any kids do, they decide to finish building it. With much chaos and experimenting they manage to move something back through time. Of course all of this has the added benefit of entangling one of David’s school mates; Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D’elia, Born of War 2013), David has a crush on her and as with most young lads of his age, he is totally unable to act on it. A good section of the movie deals with the youngsters building and improving the time machine, often with mixed results.

First the five youngsters experiment with sending inanimate objects back and forth through time, but David is eager to move things on and after much tinkering and adaption, they have a time travel device which they can bring with them, which can transport them to when they want to go (within a limited window of a couple of weeks, but growing as they tinker)

As the movie progresses it starts to take on a slightly darker more sinister hue. After firstly starting off with small things, they decide to “surgically” (my words) interfere with the past, but very quickly learn that one event might have a knock-on effect on another even though the two may not seem linked. After making changes to the time line. On their first trip back they see how the lawas of nature actually kick-in to prevent them from meeting themselves in the past, if they do, bith are removed from nature, no longer existing.

These trips back in time start of light enough, with Quinn using the trips back to ace a pop-quiz in chemistry and then get more intense as they try to undo changes to the timelines brought about by their travel. These changes which seem like nothing much have implications which spread far and wide, the ripple effect being nicely expounded here.

This film is a lot more watchable than I thought it would be and indeed deals with some of the more fundamental aspects of time travel, concentrating on the effects (as thought) rather than on the pure science of the physics. Indeed this is where the film lets itself down slightly, but only slightly.

Without going into the physics of time travel the movie looks to the impacts and how the people involved try to deal with and correct what they have done. One could argue that there is not a whole lot original in the first half of the movie, when even the movie itself draws parallels with some of those time-travelling presentations which came before (even down to video shots of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989).

The second half is where the movie really kicks in and ups the tempo. This is an interesting look at the whole area of time travel and its consequences and might be compared to About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013). Much of the tension surround the undoing of the consequences of even the supposedly smallest actions when they went back in time. One of the issues with Time travel movies is the potential for the heroes to go anywhere, any when in time. Almanac carefully circumvents these issues by building in practical limitations to their device and so keeping the movie on a relatively (sorry for the pun) tight perspective and prevents it from tackling too many physics questions.

Over all it works, with perhaps just a little bit too much time spent on the concert in the baseball stadium, but then again there are implications for the event. It also manages to convey some of the science of time-travel without breaking into applied physics. The movie does have some convenient plot holes but nothing that takes away from the picture overall.

Chappie

Directed and co-written by Neill BlomKamp (District 9, 2009) Chappie is set in The Republic of South Africa in the near future, more specifically in Johannesburg. Faced with ever growing rates of lawlessness and violence the South African police purchase a series of android robots from a local company headed by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, aliens 1986), these robots are fully mobile AI’s with human interfaces to help control them. Initial trials and usage are going well. Crime rates in the city fall and criminals are genuinely fearful of them.

The opening sequences tell you straight away that you are in a BlomKamp movie with the by-now familiar camera styles. With his opening shots we see how law and order is being restored. In the middle of this we meet drone 22 (who will become known as Chappie), who is severely damaged in deployment and sent to the scrap heap. As this is going on Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire, 2008) the engineer behind the androids has been working on a full AI program for the androids and has finally cracked it. He is prevented from trying his latest work on any of the robots. As this happens he is facing competition from inside the company in the guise of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who has developed a remote controlled ground drone which is basically a walking tank, full to the gunnels with high grade armoury, however his program is cancelled because of the success of the drones.

If life was not hard enough, some of the local criminals, suffering from the effects of the drones decide to Kidnap Deon to force him to shut down the drones. As luck would have it they kidnap Deon when he has a van load of spare parts in the back of his van, while he is getting out of the Lab so he can build his own full AI unit with his new software installed. Once captured, it becomes clear he cannot help them, but it is discovered that he has the making of an android in his van. He agrees to help them build it so he can fit his own AI software in to the brain.

They agree reluctantly, the leader of the gang, Ninja (also called Ninja today) wants the android for a big hoist. His friend Yolandi ( Yo Landi Visser, Focus 2015) develops a soft spot for Chappie as he grows. After some struggles Chappie (played by Sharlto Copley, District 9, 2009) has his AI brain and begins to learn how to behave in the human world. Ninja feels no emotion for him and treats him like a weapon basically, trying to train him to be an effective killing machine, Yolandi on the other hand develops a maternal bond with the ‘droid.

All this happens against the gang trying to plan their biggest Hoist, Deon not trying to get caught, and Vincent Moore discovering what is really happening and then planning to kidnap/destroy Chappie. As the movie develops is grows into three strands; the relationship with Chappie as he develops essentially following the characteristics of a truculent teenager; the training of Chappie by the gang despite attempts by Yolandi and Deon to “humanise” him and keep him away from violence. The third strand is the rivalry within the company and the attempts by Moore to discredit the androids and have his system used.

This of course culminates is a disaster for the city of epic proportions which ends up with Moore and his robot battling Chappie and his gang. While this is going on Deon’s work on AI have sparked Chappie’s interest and he himself manages to progress it. Ultimately they develop the ability to transfer a human conscience in to an artificial brain, this might be able to help them in their fight to survive.

I am trying hard not to ruin the plot line. I watched this shortly after watching Ex Machina (see below) it is interesting to see the take on artificial intelligence and how we as a society are prepared to live with it. Whereas Ex Machina had science and suspense, Chappie has action and a reflection, despite all that is going on we begin to see Chappie in an almost “human” light.

On the negative side, there are one or two small issues with the film, despite being in South Africa, the majority of the cast is white, Dev Patel (English of Indian extraction), something which considering the film is shot in South Africa was noticeable. One other aspect is what I would consider a hole in the story “Security” aspect. The facility where the robots are made seems to be totally incapable of any type of security (which facilitates the storyline) but this causes a certain weakness in the film. I should also point out the film does nothing to advance Johannesburg’s reputation internationally, rather cementing it as the violent city it is often known for.

That said, the movie manages to capture the discussion on what constitutes “humanity” and the nature of being, having a soul and the next life. Are we humane just because we are human, is the soul the preserve of humans?

6/10 An entertaining movie with some excellent special effects, but still somehow managed to give the feel of a small budget production. Overall quite watchable with some rough edges round the corners, perhaps deliberately.

They Came Back (Les Revenants, The Returned) 2004

Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (The Class, 2008) and Brigitte Tijou (Riviera, 2005), this quite original piece deals with the returning dead in a way not often seen. The film concentrates on event s through the eyes of the local s of a small town in central France. The opening scenes are of events surrounding the returning as they are being outlined by the Mayor (Victor Garrivier, French Kiss, 1995) of the town as he briefs officials.

It turns out that the returned all came back in roughly a 2 hour window one day. Looking to the dead in detail society quickly sets about learning how to deal with the returned. It seems that those who returned were all dead less than 10 years and present no outwardly physical signs of having been dead. It quickly becomes apparent that the returned are lacking a certain “fire”. One of the officials states that they will never be able to use initiative and should not be given positions of authority, regardless of their previous functions in life.

What we see as the movie progresses is how society copes with these Returned. There are both the larger macro issues of how to house and rehabilitate them. the movie smartly deals with many of the issues we often glance over in such productions, what happens to the dead in the world of the living, can they get their property or old jobs back? How are they fitting in socially and are they being welcomed back by everybody? The central or unifying part of the movie is the city council and how they are dealing with the situation. This is a clever device as it allows us to be told the story exactly as Camillo wants us to hear it, it also allows us an introduction to key characters and how they interact between themselves and the returned.

With this device we see the Mayor coming to terms with the return of his elderly wife. Where the return is generally trouble free there is the issue of here wondering at night. This brings us on to “Mathieu” an architect working in a firm who previously had some significant responsibilities. It is now seen that his abilities are seriously restricted. This is discovered when the psychologist assigned to the returned has a discussion with one of the guards. The returned do not sleep. It seems that they also have no ability to make memories and essentially their communications skills are based on what they had when alive and situational memories which allows them to appear as if they are having on-going conversations.

Things may not be as they seem. The doctors and scientists observing the returned notice certain physical characteristics which allow the returned to be tracked. This tracking leads to some interesting discoveries. What do they do at night? What are the returned planning? Do they feel welcome? Where does all of this lead?

This is not a zombie movie in the traditional sense and there are probably some who would say that the returned are not zombies, whatever! They are re-animated corpses, they are zombies. Not having the movie focused on the usual plot-line of zombies trying to kill the human population is a refreshing change as it allows the many other aspects which are normally over-looked.

This movie is not perfect. It moves at a steady “European” pace which some might feel is slow (which I think, works)  rather than the fast disaster movie action which we are used to with zombie films. This movie concentrates more on the rational and even emotional implications of the return rather than the traditional emergency response approach. The subsequent TV series which was released about 10 years after the movie is significantly different to the film while staying loyal to the original concept of the returned. I liked this movie, possibly because I had read about it and seen the TV series previously so I had an idea of what to expect. I quite liked it. It is a very interesting variation on an well-tried concept.   It is interesting that in the 10 years since its release subsequent zombie movies have not overly tried to repeat this format, rather sticking with the traditional blood-fest approach.

If you claim to be a Sci-fi or Horror fan you need to watch this, if however you are a fan of mindless violence and body party being ripped off/digested then you need to go back to Master Romero’s works.

I Origins

This film looks to the old idea of the eyes being the windows to the soul, something which pre-scores evolution. Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, Seven Psychopaths, 2012) is a post-doctorate researcher fascinated with the human eye. He is enthralled by eyes both from the perspective of the aesthetic ( he has a collection of hundreds of photographs he has taken of people’s faces and particularly their eyes) and their evolutionary importance; something which he is convinced science has over-looked. In to this mix comes a young woman who he meets at a party (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Juliette, Juliette, 2013) who he becomes smitten with. Not knowing who she is, he tries to find her, only to “discover her” from a series of numbers as he bought a lottery ticket at 11.11 on the 11th on a road where the number 11 bus passes etc. He follows the clues and eventually meets her.

In parallel to this he also acquires a new first year lab research student, who he initially dismisses as another air-head whose work he will pass if she just stays away from the lab, however it soon becomes apparent that she does actually know something about the work he is doing. From here on Ian’s life seems to move in Parallel, just as him home life is progressing so too are his professional efforts. The team are looking a genetic marker that will change the way we look at evolution, however it is a long-shot and likely to take years. Just as his career is looking to the long view, his relationship is proceeding quickly.

Then one fateful day, news comes through that they have found a candidate animal which has the gene but no eyes – exactly what is needed. Now they should be able to genetically build an eye in to this animal, a genetically perfect one. His joy here is quickly removed as Sophie is killed in an accident. Here is perhaps the weakest moment for in the midst of his grief he turns to his assistant and they begin a relationship which immediately jumps 7 years to where there are married and about to have their first child. There was perhaps just a little too much speed there.

Married and now with a young son, all is good until one day they get a call asking them to attend a clinic with their son as he might be showing indicators of autism. They bring the child to be tested only to realise that the test is not for autism but some kind of memory test. Memory of a past life. The researcher believes the child may have the memories of somebody who died previously. The trouble is, this is not a million miles from Ian’s own research. This gets him asking questions.

Although always seeing himself as a rational scientist, his objective belief system starts to take a beating. Using his knowledge of the human eyes together with his database access, they quickly see a pattern emerging. Something that should not have happened. Different people around the world, such as his dead former girl-friend, Sofi share certain characteristics, but none of these people are ever alive at the same time.

In many ways this film is like “Upstream Color” (Shane Carruth, 2013) both movies are for us to work at. We are brought along but not given too much help. In ?Upstream Color we are given almost no help, here there is enough to keep us from having to struggle too much, while at the same time have us wanting more.

This is a smartly directly movie, which does not strain itself beyond its capabilities, it is very watchable and a lot less taxing than Upstream Color.

The Congress

This movie starts off on a fairly standard note, there is little in the first part of the movie to suggest how Ari Folman’s (Waltz with Bashir, 2008) direction would go. The movie is based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem using Folman’s screenplay.

The movie starts in the family home of a gracefully aging movie star being lectured to by her agent, Al, (Harvey Keitel, The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014). She has been essentially side-lined by the industry because of how hard she is to work with, however the studio have an offer for her. Against this background we learn she has two children, both mid to late teens and one of them, her son Aaron is suffering from an ailment which will eventually cause him to be both deaf and blind but in the meantime he is fascinated by flying and his kites.

After much persuasion from Al she eventually agrees to meet with the studio boss, Jeff Green (Danny Huston, Masters of sex, 2014) who informs her that there is a fundamental way in which the studios are working and that essentially actors and actresses are no longer needed. He makes her an offer she cannot refuse, but true to form she does and needs to be convinced of it. She eventually agrees but puts in some conditions, not least of all, that the “life” time-span of the contract would be 20 years, if they wanted it again it would need to be renewed. The studio will take a digital image of her and use that for making movies, she just needs to retire and not act – anywhere in the world.

We then see Robin in her early 60’s arriving at the gates of Miramount Studio’s animated City. We are not told what this is until we get there. At this stage the film turns to animation of a style reminiscent of Waltz with Bashir and more than subtle homage to the Japanese. It seems everybody is now taking a drug which allows them to essentially be who they imagine themselves to be. She arrives at a convention as a guest of the studio, only to discover she is the 6th Robin Wright to book-in. The hotel is a frenzied mix of studio executive types and other strung out and visibly the worse for wear. Nobody is who they seem, the drug takes care of that. The entire hotel and convention scene is one of bacchanalian and hedonistic partying, perhaps reminiscent of the scenes from an imagined world’s ending. It turns out it might be.

The new contract is needed because it turns out that the technology of 20years ago is no old hat and the new contracted is needed, now Robin Wright will be a sensation – a sensual sensation rather than just an image. She agree and goes to the launch where she rails against the studio machine and is promptly removed, but as this happens there is a revolution of sorts at the hotel. In the middle of this revolution the studio police come after her and the execution scene is straight from Paths to Glory, (Stanley Kubrick, 1957). After this we see how she is in fact suffering from a type of drug induced poisoning which dooms her to life in this alternative reality. She is put in to a sleep with the hope of waking her up once a cure is found. She is woken and advised to stay in this world but goes back to the old world where she quickly sees reality. It is not a good place. The world she left behind has changed, freedoms are removed, society has fallen victim to the drug, there are now two types of people – the “management” who are not on the drug and everybody else whose lives are controlled by it.

Part live action part animation this movie looks at a number of issues and how they affect not just Hollywood. Do we recognise when we have it good, how much of what is around us is illusion and what is reality. How do we know the difference and how do we make it happen?

This is a slightly challenging film to watch, mainly because it does actually challenge you to listen, watch and experience the movie.

6.5/10 this a better than average film, not perfect, but given the experimental nature of this work it stands up well and provides a very entertaining piece of work that does leave you asking questions.

Snowpiercer

A south Korean movie, directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host 2006) based on the screen play by Kelly Masterson (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, 2007) and Bong Joon-ho. The world has been destroyed by attempts to stop global warming which have gone totally wrong. Faced with the growing threat of global warming, an experimental new approach was developed, which entailed seeding the upper atmosphere with a chemical (CW7) to overcome the effects of global warming.

One of the first things you notice about this film is the cast. I have to admit, it is probably not the cast I would have picked, but that said, I would have been wrong. The casting works well and I wouldn’t change any of them. Behind the scenes, there is some discussion about The Weinstein Company taking out about 20 minutes of the film to suit western viewers. The movie is based on a French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”.

The film opens in the train, but with a narration giving us the history of the efforts to stop global warming which ultimately resulted in the destruction of civilisation by virtue of the CW7 working too well and forcing the world in to an ice age. We quickly learn that those on the train have been on it for 17 years, entirely self-contained. Life is dystopian for many and carefully managed and controlled overall. The train itself is a huge affair purposefully built by an eccentric transport mogul who had no confidence in the CW7 solution so he built a special train which linked in to the world’s rail transport system and provided a place of refuge for the select few, constantly travelling around the world, never stopping.

Never stopping has a price. In order to keep the train moving the passengers are carefully ordered. First class, standard and economy. We learn about the workings of the train and its society from the huddled masses in economy. As bad as conditions are, we are told they are “the lucky ones” as they got on the train and are still alive. For seventeen years these people have been in the windowless back carriages at the tail of the train. Things are not good. People are huddled in to any corner they can find. The background is explained to us through the eyes of those trapped in the back. There have been up-risings in the past, all of which have failed. One of the key aspects of the uprisings is getting out to the armoured carriages in to the next carriages on the train. The people are fed a stable diet of protein pars to keep them alive. The protein bars are provided by the “Train” We also notice that although these third class passengers are in rags there is a fully uniformed security force and also train crew.

Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014) plays the part of Curtis, he is the leader of the would-be rebellion. He must decide when to act and how to. Key to their plan is rescuing Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song, The Host, 2013) who is the security expert who designed the security systems for the train, keeping the carriages separate. The only problem is that he is a drug addled prisoner in the train’s prison carriage. Curtis together with his Lieutenants; Edgar, his second in command (Jamie Bell, Man on a Ledge, 2012)) sporting a strangely passible Irish accent who is the no-patience action man; and Gilliam, the older sage, respected by all and carrying the wounds of previous encounters. Discipline is savage, beatings are regular and extreme, often involving loss of limbs. Other rebellions have failed, they have looked at why and hopefully have a plan to overcome these issues.   In to the mix of this we see the “overlords” using these third-class passengers as nothing more than a resource to be taken from.

At one scene we see one person taken t the front of the train to provide musical entertainment for the upper classes. We later see him and others who have been taken, their minds’ washed to be compliant and subservient. Meanwhile children are being taken to the front and nobody knows why.

Authority on the train is in the person of Minister Monroe (Thilda Swinton, Adaptation, 2002) who is the voice of authority, endlessly engaging in a passive aggressive dominance over those in third class.   Eventually when they notice that the guards on the carriage actually have no ammunition in their weapons, the passengers rise-up. Using weapons and tools they made, they make their attack, first to the jail carriage where they rescue the security expert and his girlfriend. Using their skills they move forward first past the prison carriage, then they take the food and water carriages, revealing some of the nasty truths involved in life on the train. After a series of often bloody battles, against firstly the guards, then axe yielding black clad figures to then more armed guard and some very nasty people along the way. Eventually they make their way forward, glimpsing along the way how the rest of the upper-class passengers live. Ultimately they arrive at the Front, and meet Mr Wilford (Ed Harris, the Way Back 2010). Here talking with Wilford they rebels get an idea of just how perverted life has become on the train.

We are told as the film progresses that the key to survival is balance. There is plenty of food (for the privileged) the key is balancing the demands with supply at the right times and seasons. This even stretches to the punishment of the third class passengers, it is calculated that 74% must die. We have become used to video games producing tie-in movies, however this is a movie which almost feels like a video game despite not having one at its origin. Each Carriage is essentially a new level with new associated challenges for the rebels to overcome.

This movie could have been too busy, with so much cramped in to so tight a space, both physically and emotionally, but the characterisation works, Evans’ Curtis is very underplayed, what we know of him comes from revealing moments as the movie progresses, to ultimately a character we have confidence in as a leader. Swinton’s Monroe is a nasty piece of work showing nothing but disdain for the passengers through her passive aggressive control. We see just how lose control is later on as she is used to lead the rebels through the train. Those upper class people they pass are largely disgusted by what they see, interrupting their on-going lives. The food shortages present further back are not seen here.

The only obvious weakness that presents itself, is a slight continuity issue; where having established that the guards are out of ammunition we later see a full use of ammunition as the rebellion gathers pace, perhaps it is rationed to certain areas. The other slight weakness is the issue of blockages on the line, is it only now that these are causing problems, are they normal with the rebellion deflecting away from essential management of them?

When we eventually meet Wilford, having already gotten a background on him we see a person who is immediately comparable to “Christof” the show’s producer and “God-like” character. We see the same calm omnipotence here. There Characters are perhaps a little too similar, given the respective plots. Very smartly we are shown not just his power but also how fragile it all is, perhaps his character is more comparable to The Wizard from The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan). His power is based on what people think of him. Minister Monroe’s character shows us how the train’s front has almost taken on a mystical, even religious aspect, with Wilford being almost worshipped.

That said, this is an excellent movie with an excellent cast, Evans, gives one of his best roles, Swinton is almost unrecognisable, Bell and Hurt support magnificently. It should be pointed out that even additional supporting cast duties are taken up by well-known character-actors more than capable of supplying what is needed.

In the last scenes we see a polar bear; does this signify freedom, danger or the sub-text that the bear looks fed and, if it is fed, there is life of some sort, where there is life; there is hope. As viewers, Bong, quite deliberately allowed us to get to know those people surviving at the back of the train and what they have to endure, are we allowed to hope for their future.