“Snowpiercer” may be the oddest film of the year so far. The set up sounds like a standard dystopian world scenario… to a point.
Set just seventeen years from today, the movie, written and directed by Joon-ho Bong, takes place in a dystopian world where global warming has turned the planet into one giant snowball.
So far this could be “The Day After Tomorrow,” or “The Colony” or any number of icy thrillers set in a sub zero world.
All of humanity now lives on a train, owned and operated by a mysterious industrialist named Wilford, hurtling through what’s left of ice-covered planet. It’s an ecosystem with its own class system. In the front of the locomotive people live a life of luxury, dining on sushi, partying in nightclubs, tending orchids in greenhouses, while the folks in the back, “the freeloaders” are forced to live in atrocious conditions. Imagine the steerage section in “Titanic” only WAY worse.
Crammed in like sardines these “tail section” passengers are treated like prisoners, forced to eat “protean bars” of dubious quality and tortured for the slightest of infractions. “Know your place,” commands Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton). “Accept your place.”
It’s an atmosphere ripe for revolution, but can ringleaders Curtis (Chris Evans), Gilliam (John Hurt) and right hand man Edgar (Jamie Bell) fight their way through the train (and all of the story’s allegories) to the front and freedom?
Based on the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” “Snowpiercer” is the nerviest actioner to come along in a season crowded with movies that go crash, boom, bang. It’s an environmental thriller—if you haven’t already seen Bong’s “The Host” do so now!—that is unapologetically weird, keeping the audience off balance for the entirety of its two-hour running time.
Tilda Swinton as the train’s Iron Lady, the minister of discipline, plays like a cross between a prison guard, Benny Hill and Margaret Thatcher. It’s a loopy performance that embraces and embodies the movie’s weird spirit.
In the world Bong creates surprises are around every corner, characters come and go, but it never feels odd for odd’s sake. The story rips along like a rocket (or thousand car train, if you like), sometimes in several directions at once, but Bong controls the chaos, keeping the story plausible (OK, plausible-ish) and above all, entertaining.
For many performers playing the Metropolitan Opera alongside Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti would be a career crowning achievement. To Emmy (that’s short for Emmanuelle) Rossum it was just another day at work. She made $5 a night singing with the children’s choir. “There was a horse on stage in a Zeffirelli production that got one hundred and fifty a night,” she laughs, before adding that the experience taught her to never take a job for the money. “You really realize you’re there because you love it,” she says.
Rossum, the New York City raised star of Shameless (which airs on TMN and Movie Central this month), left the opera at age twelve, frustrated that solos were only handed out to the boys. She took with her a work ethic: Be prepared, be on time. It’s a privilege to perform for a living. “Those are the ideas I’ve taken to every set with me.”
Her early resume looks like a lot of New York City based actor’s. A stint on As the World Turns here. A guest shot on Law & Order there. But it was a role as gap-toothed Appalachian orphan in the film Songcatcher that made people stand up and notice her. The movie showcased the preteen’s acting ability—she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance—and gave her the chance to show off her singing skills, performing five tunes on the soundtrack, including a song with one of her idols.
“Having a chance to record with Dolly Parton was something I’ll never forget,” she says of When Love Is New, a country duet that appears on the soundtrack.
The low budget film—just 2 million dollars total—led to more work, including playing title character from ages 12 to 16 in the television movie The Audrey Hepburn Story and the small, but crucial part of Katie Markum, Sean Penn’s daughter murdered daughter, in her first major studio film, Mystic River.
“When I arrived on the set the first day, [director Clint Eastwood] was incredibly warm,” she says. “But before the day ended, he was yelling at me for calling him Mister Eastwood. He’s a very quiet man who doesn’t say much, but you better listen, because, if he says something, it’ll be damned important.”
Working with Eastwood was exciting, but every career has a moment, a crack in time when an actor goes from unknown to known and for Emmy it was yet to come. Her career had been a slow build, from small roles in big films (Mystic River) and big roles in small films (like the urban fairy tale-romantic comedy Nola), that lead to 2004, her breakout year.
First the 18 year old spent six months shooting the wild end-of-the-world epic The Day After Tomorrow. With a budget of $85,807,341 the global warming disaster movie probably cost more than all of Emmy’s previous films combined, but it gave the young actress a showcase for one of her pet causes. “One of the reasons I’m glad I did The Day After Tomorrow is because it opened a dialogue about the effects of global warming,” she says, despite the movie being listed by Yahoo! Movies listed the film as one of the Top 10 Scientifically Inaccurate Movies of all time.
The second part of her 2004 breakout took her back to her stage roots. Fresh from Day After Tomorrow’s grueling shoot she auditioned for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber who hired her to play Christine in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera. “Actually I didn’t think I would get it just because it was too big. They don’t normally give Hollywood ninety-million dollar budgeted musicals to un-famous sixteen-year- olds.”
Amazingly she had never seen the stage show before taking the role, but she put an indelible stamp on the character, but it wasn’t easy. “I was wearing corsets the entire six months which were insanely uncomfortable and prohibited me eating any solid food all day long besides ice cream which would melt and actually pass my esophagus. It had enough sugar to actually sustain me and give me enough energy.”
Since then she has worked steadily. Her CD Inside Out was a mixture of pop-rock electronica, new age and classical. She’s lent her name to causes like breast cancer awareness and Global Green USA and of course, has stared in high profile films like Poseidon and the wild action flick Dragonball Evolution.
But despite all her achievements she hasn’t let Hollywood go to her head. “I would say a big accomplishment is that I’ve stayed true to who I am and not let fame affect me.”
Director Roland Emmerich, whose films usually portray the end of times—Independence Day saw aliens try and conquer the Earth while The Day After Tomorrow had Mother Nature taking a swipe at life as we know it—has, this time, chosen to take us back to the beginning of time.
10,000 BC is what used to be known as a “caveman” movie, but in these more politically correct times is now called Neanderthal Drama.
A bombastic cross between Quest for Fire and Encino Man it tells the story of D’Leh (model and actor Steven Strait), a caveperson of considerable physical charms, whose mate Evolet (Camilla Belle) is kidnapped by marauders on horseback who D’Laeh mistakes for “four legged demons.”
Lovesick, he vows to get her back. In his quest to find his love he must battle giant computer generated Saber Tooth Tigers, Wooly Mammoths and something that looks like a steroid-crazed giant chicken.
Keeping the tradition of other Cro-Magnon epics like Teenage Caveman and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, 10,000 BC doesn’t skimp on the kitsch—dialogue like “You see that star out there, the one that doesn’t move? It’s like my love for you, in my heart” would be hard for any actor to pass off, let alone one wearing a loincloth—and don’t look for a history lesson either. In Emmerich’s version of history cavemen don’t live in caves but thatch-roofed villages. They travel on wooden sailboats and worship at pyramids and temples thousands of years before either of those things actually existed. Call it historical fantasy.
Apart from a wild Wooly Mammoth battle near the end I’m afraid even fellow caveman Fred Flintstone might give this one a pass. So to paraphrase the world’s best known caveman is 10,000 BC a Yabba-Dabba-Do or a Yabba-Dabba-Don’t? I think Fred would choose the latter and rent ancient epic Apocalypto instead.