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.