South Korean director Bong Joon-ho has already made a name for himself with outstanding Korean-language movies like The Host and Mother that made an impact on Western cinema audiences. Snowpiercer is his first English-language movie. Apart from the director’s own reputation for bold productions that sidestep the usual genre cliches, Snowpiercer also serves up an amazing cast, that includes John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Ed Harris. It stars Chris Evans who proves that he is very much more than just Captain America. The story of a train that circumnavigates the global continually (by virtue of a perpetual motion engine) holding the last remains of civilization in a world where almost all life has been destroyed by a failed attempt to reverse global warming, is as interesting as it is absurd. But accept the basic terms on which the film works, and all the rest falls into place. There are strong echoes of recent films like Elysium and In Time, but Bong, who also has a screenwriter credit for the film, brings his own particular grim and darkly humorous perspective to a well-worn theme.
Last Days on Mars
You have seen it all before. You might call Last Days on Mars either unapologetically, or shamelessly, derivative. An isolated crew of astronauts in the final days of a mission to collect specimens on Mars make an unexpected discovery. Then things begin to go wrong and one by one people begin to die. Once you get over the fact that Last Days on Mars really has no aspirations to break new ground, the film is a perfectly adequate piece of sci-fi horror to fill the sensory vacuum for beer and pizza on a Friday night. The production design is pretty slick and Liev Schreiber manages to inject some of his own charisma to hold up the picture, but the movie does not have the script or plot to underpin his efforts. Watch a real movie: Get Alien out on DVD instead.
What Maisie Knew
Based on a novel by Henry James, and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, What Maisie Knew is a contemporary adaptation of a once avant-garde novel that has polarized critics, some gushing over the outstanding performances and the “rightness” of the story for contemporary society, while others see it as just a depressing soap about people impossible to care for. The film introduces Onata Aprile, whose performance as the young Maisie, caught in the middle of a horrendous tug-of-love between divorced parents and their new partners, has been uniformly praised as an outstanding portrayal of childhood’s mix of knowingness and innocence, and the adult cast, which includes Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgard, is generally excellent.
Dramas about key events in modern history are, if they are any good at all, inevitably controversial, and by that standard Parkland is certainly a hit. Writer-director Peter Landesman offers a reverse-shot on history, depicting the little people pulled into the maelstrom of confusion that surrounded the assassination of John F. Kennedy. These little people are played by top Hollywood names, including Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, who unwittingly captured the killing on Super 8, and Billy Bob Thornton as Forrest Sorrels, a grizzled secret service agent tasked with security on JFKs Dallas visit. A highlight among the ensemble is High School Musical star Zac Efron as the doctor who is called on to save the president’s life. His nervous smile when faced with the dying president says it all. This being a big Hollywood picture, there is the tendency to over-dramatize, and although Parkland does not provide much that is new to the story, its focus on characters like Zapruder, Sorrels and Robert Oswald (brother of Lee Harvey, played by James Badge Dale) makes it unusual enough to be interesting.
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
The 22nd Taipei Arts Festival (臺北藝術節) opens tonight with three productions, a slightly scaled-down pandemic version that seeks to keep its tradition of big ideas, challenging programs and international connections alive and moving forward in an increasingly uncertain world. The theme of this year’s festival is “Super@#S%?” — as good a term as any when descriptives and superlatives seem not only inadequate, but somewhat irrelevant in a world where so many people cannot imagine being able to return to theaters, either as performers or audience members — they are too worried about having a job and their health. Technically, however, it is
Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) is both a Hakka outpost and a place of great ecological interest. The conjoined body of water from which it gets its name is the centerpiece of the 17.16-hectare Shuanglianpi Wildlife Refuge (雙連埤野生動物保護區). No waterways of significance fill or drain this scenic lake in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉). During the 1895 to 1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial authorities — struggling to secure Taiwan’s foothills — encouraged Han people to settle in areas adjacent to indigenous communities. Around 1910, a 49-year-old Hakka pioneer called Tsou Cheng-sheng (鄒成生) from what’s now Taoyuan decided to begin farming at