Tag Archives: Tilda Swinton

Review: ‘Snowpiercer’ Cures the Summertime Blockbuster Blues

'Snowpiercer' (Radius/TWC)
‘Snowpiercer’ (Radius/TWC)
A dark, hilarious social comedy, Snowpiercer is also filled with bruising, brutal action sequences. Under the direction of Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, that adds up to a great deal of fun.

Adapted for the screen by Bong and Kelly Masteron from a 1982 French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, the premise, frankly, is ridiculous: the extremely wealthy Wilford (Ed Harris) dreamed of building a perpetual-motion engine that would power a luxury train on a private rail system circumnavigating the world. He achieved his dream before a scientific experiment goes wrong and causes another Ice Age that kills all life on Earth, except for those “lucky” enough to gain passage on the train, named Snowpiercer.

The truly “lucky” ones are those who were rich enough to secure accommodations on the front part of the train. The unlucky, i.e. the poor and unwashed, are kept in the back part of the train by armed guards, and suffer privations on an epic scale. Despite occasional rebellions, the situation has continued unabated for 17 years, and Curtis (Chris Evans) has had enough. Under the guidance of the group’s unofficial leader, the aged and disabled Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis has hatched a plan to rush the armed guards, move forward through the train, and eventually take control of the engine, so as to establish liberty and justice for all.

The anguish of the underprivileged passengers — including Curtis’ best friend Edgar (Jamie Bell), as well as an angry mother, Tanya (Octavia Spencer), whose young child has been taken away by the guards for undisclosed reasons — is dire and a unrelieved until Tilda Swinton shows up as Mason, an authority figure. She delivers a speech that, judging by its words alone, is intended to intimidate and terrorize the cowed and downtrodden: ‘Everyone must remain in their place! We in the front, and you in the back!’ Yet her buck-toothed appearance and Swinton’s out-of-touch delivery of the lines mark it as a patently comic invention, and that welcome dose of levity returns balance to the piece.

Although grim and violent action predominates, the humorous commentary continues, especially once the sleepy-eyed Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho) enters the picture. He’s a drug-addicted security expert who’s been locked up for years, and the rebels must entice him to join them. He and his partner in crime Yona (Ko Ah-sung) supply perspective as the rebels fight their way toward the engine.

Each car on the train is different, fulfilling a different function, and, if it wasn’t already crystal clear, each car allows for different aspects of societal and class norms to be criticized. Bong and his team, notably production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, create a wonderful variety of luxurious settings for the front half of the train, no matter how impractical they may appear, and their unflagging imagination, as gloriously photographed by Hong Kyung-pyo (Bong’s 2009 film Mother) reaps increased benefits as the rebels approach their ultimate goal.

Song Kang-ho has appeared in many of the best-known Korean films to have enjoyed exposure in the U.S. (J.S.A.: Joint Security Area and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, to name two), and worked with Bong previously on 2003’s Memories of Murder and 2006’s The Host. Here he is a shaggy dog of a man, and he’s teamed well with Ko Ah-sung, who played the girl captured by the monster in The Host

Among the English-speaking cast, Chris Evans acquits himself quite well, embodying a man who has spent half his life on the train and is burned out from his suffering. Tilda Swinton’s comic turn is pure gold. John Hurt and Ed Harris lend the necessary dramatic heft to their roles.

Snowpiercer offers up an energetic sociology lesson that is sometimes glib and sometimes sincere, but always entertaining and propulsive.

The film opens Wednesday, July 2, at Angelika Film Center (both locations, in Dallas and Plano), Alamo Drafthouse, and AMC Grapevine.

Review: ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’

Tilda Swinton in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (Oscilloscope)
Tilda Swinton in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (Oscilloscope)

The Devil is hiding in plain sight.

Or, rather, a devil, a demon-child whose true personality is known only to his guilt-ridden mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton). Everyone else sees an angelic creature named Kevin, beloved by his blinkered father Franklin (John C. Reilly) and all who come in contact with him.

Kevin hides his true nature from everyone but Eva, driving her to the brink of insanity as her guilt from bearing such an abomination becomes heavier and heavier. She lashes out and then is blamed for being overbearing and unreasonable, thus adding to her overwhelming emotional burden.

The dour, portentous tone of We Need to Talk About Kevin can be attributed to director Lynne Ramsay, years removed from the sad yet realistic and down to earth Ratcatcher and the somewhat-more-nervous and uneven Morvern Callar. Or, perhaps it can be traced back to the source material, a novel by Lionel Shriver that was published in 2003.

Shriver told the story as a series of letters from Eva to Franklin, all written in hindsight after something terrible has happened. Because events are presented as a mystery that is not solved until the end, I’ll avoid spoilers by not discussing the “something terrible.”

As the movie begins, the “something terrible” has already happened, and Eva moves through life as though she were Sisyphus, eternally rolling a boulder to the top of a mountain and then watching it roll back down. Her body is stiff and tense, anticipating physical and verbal abuse from everyone she encounters. She admits that she never really wanted children, that she resented Kevin since before he was born, that she longs to be free of his presence, that she hates having to suffer the indignity of dealing with her inferiors — meaning everybody.

Eva, in short, is not a terribly nice person, but there’s also ample indication that she’s suffering from clinical depression that goes largely untreated and ignored by her husband Franklin, who dotes on Kevin to the exclusion of nearly all else. If Eva is unsufferably negative, Franklin is a happy idiot, and Kevin is the spawn of Satan.

The child, played by three different actors, is also a master of deceit and deception. Ezra Miller, who plays Kevin as a teenager, perfectly captures all the hateful looks that no one ever wants to see, and repeats them over and over again.

All of which makes We Need to Talk About Kevin an exceedingly unpleasant experience to endure, albeit one that features an exceptional performance by Swinton and plenty of post-screening food for thought. Heavily seasoned with an oppressive flavor of fatalistic tragedy, it’s the ultimate anti-date movie, to the point that otherwise loving couples may avoid sex for weeks after watching it, just to make sure they’re not responsible for another Kevin.

We Need to Talk About Kevin opens today at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.

Review: I Am Love

“Our family’s fortune is built on unity.”

In Erick Zonca’s criminally overlooked Julia, Tilda Swinton gives a searing portrayal of a woman with no sense of control:  she drinks to brave excess, beds whoever is there before she passes out, agrees to madness and then attempts to re-shape madness to suit her own needs, by the end only barely realizing that her capacity for execution of a plan is far outweighed by every single element that surrounds her.  Swinton plays Julia as loose, sweaty, persistent, loud and desperate, yet remains thoroughly winning from start to finish.  What a thrill it must have been for the actor to go from that role to the tightly-wound, formal, soft-spoken and (ultimately) sensually pronounced Emma Recchi, in Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous and melodramatic I Am Love (Io Sono L’Amore). Continue reading Review: I Am Love