Snowpiercer (2013)

2018 #251
Bong Joon Ho | 126 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | South Korea & Czech Republic / English & Korean | 15 / R

Snowpiercer

Before we knew about Harvey Weinstein’s real, vile crimes, his offences against cinema were already widely discussed. From manipulating the Oscars to re-editing foreign films himself before distribution, he’d managed to become powerful often at the expense of films themselves. Snowpiercer was another example: having acquired distribution rights while the movie was in production, Weinstein later insisted on severe cuts (reportedly 20 minutes) and changes (adding opening and closing monologues), but co-writer/director Bong Joon Ho refused. It was eventually released in the US uncut, but only on a limited number of screens, and the planned worldwide distribution either didn’t happen or was curtailed — I don’t know about other countries where Weinstein had the rights, but there was no UK release at all. But the downfall of Weinstein has seen the rights to various films shopped to other distributors, and so Snowpiercer finally made it onto Amazon Video in the UK last November, and as of this week is available to Netflix subscribers. For my part, I heard the good reviews back on its US release and, with no sign of it coming to the UK, imported the US Blu-ray when it came out in 2014; but, me being me, I only actually got round to watching it last year.

Based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is set in the far future, after an apocalyptic event has left the world an arctic wasteland. What survives of humanity all live on the titular train, which constantly circles the planet. The rich people live in luxury at the front; the poor people live in squalor at the back. Numerous attempted uprisings by the lower class have failed, but, with nothing to lose but their shitty lives, they’re going to try again.

The War Doctor, Captain America, and Billy Elliot step aboard a train...

Yeah, it’s a pretty out-there, not-at-all-plausible premise, but just go with it and the film has rewards aplenty. If you want to get intellectual, the train’s societal structure and how it’s maintained offers an allegorical commentary about class divides and the interdependence of the oppressed and the oppressors. But if that sounds a bit heavy, the film wraps it up in a pulse-pounding action thriller, dressed up further with mysterious backstories ripe for exposing and an array of memorable performances, not least Tilda Swinton as a toothy commandant. So, it’s by turns seriously thought-provoking, outrageously hysterical, and wondrously exciting — there are several superbly staged action sequences as our heroes literally battle their way up the train.

It may’ve taken an unconscionably long time to reach our shores — but hey, what could be more British than a mega-train only turning up after a mega-delay? Unlike our shoddy rail service, however, Snowpiercer proves worth the wait

5 out of 5

Snowpiercer is available on Netflix UK now.

It placed 3rd on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018. I watched it as part of my Blindspot 2018 project.

The Best & Worst of 2018

Later than planned, here it is: my picks of the best (and worst) films I saw in 2018! Plus, as usual, a list of some major titles I missed, thus explaining why they’re not on my top list (i.e. because I haven’t seen them).

I’d hoped to have this up by Sunday morning, but life increasingly got in the way, not helped by it being a more mammoth task than usual. You’d think picking a top 26 would be easier than picking a top 10 (there are more slots!), but you end up with the same dilemmas, just further down the scale. And, of course, a longer list means there are more films to sort into order — I mean, how do you decide which is ‘better’ between a dystopian sci-fi parable, an excoriating relationship drama, and a groundbreaking action movie when you love them all? And that’s just one example…

Anyway, this is what I ended up with. And just a final reminder before we get going: these films are selected from all 261 movies I saw for the first time in 2018, not just new releases.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

This year I watched some films so bad that The Snowman hasn’t made the cut. Perhaps The Snowman is worse than some of these films, and certainly everyone involved in it should’ve done better; but it seems something went wrong during its production (15% of the screenplay wasn’t even shot!), so I feel like those involved can’t be wholly to blame. However, the following five films are (to the best of my knowledge) just bad. So, in alphabetical order…

The Cloverfield Paradox
The third film in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi anthology series was dumped on Netflix at short notice, presumably in the hope people would watch it before hearing how terrible it was. Its sci-fi concepts are internally inconsistent, while the Cloverfield connections were clearly retrofitted with reshoots. [Full review.]

Geostorm
Talking of nonsensical sci-fi, this is even worse — not only is the science stuff implausibly done, it can’t create plausible character logic either. Big dumb popcorn fun shouldn’t be this dumb, because it stops it being fun. [Full review.]

Lost in Space
I avoided this movie for two decades because I heard how bad it was, but then caved when the Netflix reboot came along. Sadly, its reputation is fully deserved — it’s bad in every way you’d care to consider. Even Gary Oldman’s no good in it. And, 20 years on, it also looks incredibly dated. [Full review.]

Phantasm
This is a cult favourite with some people (known as “Phans”, I believe), but I thought it was awful. None of it makes any sense, from the mythology to the way characters behave, and it’s not very well made, either. [Full review.]

Skyline
Another sci-fi movie! I clearly made some poor genre viewing choices in 2018. Anyway, even his is Cloverfield meets Independence Day filtered through the minds of the directorial brothers behind Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, and is every inch as terrible as that sounds. [Full review.]



The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

Rather than end the year with a good ol’ top ten, since 2016 I’ve been doing a “top 10%”. This year’s record-obliterating tally was 261, so it’s my biggest top “ten” ever too, with 26 films. Think that’s too many? Feel free to scroll down and start wherever you like.

As I said at the start, all the movies I watched for the first time in 2018 are eligible for this ranking, not just new releases. However, I did watch 50 films that made their UK debut in 2018, and nine of them made it into my top 10%, so I’ve noted their ‘2018 rank’ too.

This French steampunk adventure features gorgeous animation to render a creative alternate history. A sharp turn into pulp sci-fi almost lost me, but it’s too wildly imaginative not to enjoy. [Full review.]

Probably the most iconic Bollywood movie of all time, Sholay’s 3½-hour running time has something for everyone: it’s an action adventure comedy romance musical thriller! [Full review.]

This German Cold War tale is tense and thrilling like a spy movie, but emotionally and politically loaded like an art house drama. [Full review.]

2018 #9 The year’s best fourth-wall-breaking superhero comedy. It’s a kid-friendly cartoon, but there are plenty of jokes aimed at adult superhero fans too. [Full review.]

A rounded portrait of life and combat beneath the waves, with one of the most effective surround sound mixes I’ve ever heard. [Full review.]

A newsroom satire so insightful and timelessly pertinent, you could remake it virtually word-for-word set today. [Full review.]

The blind masseur-cum-swordsman turns babysitter in this atypical but excellent instalment of the long-running series. [Full review.]

Rocky returns to train his dead friend’s son in this spin-off that honours the series’ legacy to emotive effect. [Full review.]

The kind of movie that makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced (and, to be honest, wouldn’t necessarily actually enjoy). [Full review.]

Our felty friends take to the high seas for one of their best movies, packed with swashing buckles and superb musical numbers. [Full review.]

Dario Argento’s seminal shocker was remade this year, which led me to finally see the original. It’s a masterpiece of uneasy atmosphere, with striking colours and music. [Full review.]

2018 #8 Hilariously funny, with some of the best line deliveries of the year (or ever), and cleverer than it has any right to be, this is so good it makes up for the bait-and-switch of the cute dog being prominent on the poster but not in the film. [Full review.]

2018 #7 Fantastic performances colour in all the shades of grey for some complicated characters in this dark (but, at times, surprisingly funny) drama. [Full review.]

Once eyed by Tarantino for a remake, this instalment sees Ichi attempting to atone for all his killing… only to get drawn into protecting a village from a vicious gang boss. [Full review.]

2018 #6 The Marvel formula, now available in black. But there’s more than that to this film, which plays like an Afrofuturist Bond movie. [Full review.]

A gang must fight their way home across a city out to get them in Walter Hill’s actioner, which is thrilling thanks to an almost-mythological simplicity and directness. [Full review.]

2018 #5 Netflix attracted a lot of attention by suddenly announcing and releasing this “choose your own adventure” movie at the end of December. Unlike when they pulled that stunt in February (see my worst movies list, above), Bandersnatch merited the hype. It could’ve been a gimmick, but, in the hands of Charlie Brooker and the Black Mirror team, content mirrors form, and we’re treated to a paranoid sci-fi story that couldn’t’ve been told as well any other way. [Full review.]

2018 #4 Spider-Men other than Peter Parker have been a fixture of comic books for yonks now, but here they make it to the big screen, accompanied by a powerful message about who can be a hero. Realised with startlingly inventive animation, it’s destined to be a genre classic. [Full review.]

Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie is best known for its bootcamp first half, with the abusive drill instructor played by R. Lee Ermey, who brought his experience of having done the job for real. Nonetheless, I was impressed to find the second half (set in Vietnam itself) was equally affecting. [Full review.]

2018 #3 I’d rather gone off the work of Paul Thomas Anderson in recent years, and a drama about a London fashion house in the ’50s didn’t particularly appeal either… but blow me down with a feather, the combination has produced this work of exquisite beauty. Maybe not “beauty” in the traditional sense, but as a character study of two very particular souls, with more than a touch of Gothic melodrama about its style and story, it’s my kind of beauty. [Full review.]

2018 #2 This year, the superhero movie went full comic book, with both Spider-Verse and this bringing the storytelling style of a team-up event series to the big screen. In the case of Infinity War, it was the (beginning of a) culmination of ten years’ work that has revolutionised the blockbuster movie business. But even leaving that aside, what Marvel produced here is a film with a scope, scale, and narrative style not quite like any other. [Full review.]

The darkness that’s barely concealed beneath the pleasant veneer of American high schools is exposed in this pitch-black comedy, which mixes violent teen wish fulfilment with a certain degree of societal satire to boundary-pushing effect. It’s not as transgressively shocking 30 years on as it might’ve been back in the ’80s, but it’s still so very.

Yes, I only got round to seeing La La Land this year. The Best Picture winner that wasn’t, you can certainly see why everyone thought the tradition-led Academy Awards would pick this as their winner — it is, in part, a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals. But the songs are better than just pastiches, there’s a realism to the storytelling and performances that’s more modern, and the whole film sings with the joy of moviemakers dedicated to producing something beautiful. [Full review.]

If La La Land is about beauty, Snowpiercer is about human ugliness. Its setup may stretch credulity (following an apocalyptic event, the remnants of humanity all live on one long train that constantly circles the globe), but just go with it and you’re treated to an insightful commentary/allegory about class divides and interdependence, wrapped up in a pulse-pounding action thriller with the relentless forward motion of… well, you know what. [Full review.]

The third film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy catches up with Celine and Jesse in middle age, after years of togetherness, with two kids (plus his kid from a previous relationship) and a host of problems bubbling under the surface. Midnight is notably different from the lovey-dovey-ness of Sunrise and Sunset, but it’s a powerful examination of the tension in a long-term relationship, and all the more so because we’ve connected with these characters on and off in real-time. The first two leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; this is more like being punched in the gut. And yet, together, they are one of the greatest trilogies ever made. (I really hope they do a fourth one, though.) [Full review.]

2018 #1 I have the whole history of cinema to choose from, but, once again, a new release tops my top ten. Sometimes, with hindsight, I wonder about my picks for #1; other times, I’m pleased to see I was right many years later, as my top film stands the test of time. I suspect this will be one of the latter, because the lengths to which writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and, especially, star Tom Cruise have gone to show us something we’ve never seen done before, and to entertain us with cleverly conceived and astoundingly executed action sequences, is really above and beyond the call of duty. It’s resulted in one of the best action movies ever made. As the first film I felt compelled to see twice on the big screen for nearly a decade, not to mention that I listened to over six hours of podcast interviews with McQuarrie as he dissected it every which way, there couldn’t really be any other pick for my film of the year. [Full review.]


As ever, there were lots of films I liked a lot that there simple wasn’t room for (my original long list, which I add to throughout the year, had 93 films on it). If I just listed a bunch more films I liked that would be kinda cheating (why not just do a longer list?), but, nonetheless, there are a few I’d like to highlight for specific reasons.

While compiling my top 10%, I hit on two kinds of movie that I felt should be eliminated from consideration but that I still really wanted to mention in some way. In other years, any or all of these films might’ve made the “best” list, but it was a tough year and something had to go! Well, that’s exactly what “honourable mentions” are for, right?

The first are movies that were not traditionally “good”, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of them; what some people might call “guilty pleasures”, I guess. In particular I’m thinking about Gods of Egypt (my review explains all about that) and the 1975 Zorro, which was an entertainingly chaotic romp. Also Happy Death Day, which I really enjoyed as a tonal throwback to turn-of-the-millennium teen horror movies, and Benji, which is a young kids’ film through and through, but with a loveable doggy star to ‘aww’ over.

The latter crosses over somewhat into the second category: films that were only fairly good overall, but I bloody loved one element of them — so, Benji in Benji, for example. Also: Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, the Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, and all the action sequences in The Villainess. If I did lists like characters or scenes of the year, they’re the kind of the thing that would be right near the top.

Now, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, all of which have already been mentioned in this post, one way or another. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): La La Land, Black Panther, Happy Death Day, Avengers: Infinity War, The Warriors, Sanjuro, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Christopher Robin, Heathers, Suspiria, Creed, and Snowpiercer.

Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned 5-star ratings in the year. There were 39 in total during 2018, including 22 that made it into my top 26. Those were Avengers: Infinity War, Before Midnight, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Black Panther, Das Boot: The Director’s Cut, Call Me by Your Name, Creed, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, Full Metal Jacket, Heathers, La La Land, The Lives of Others, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Network, Phantom Thread, Sholay, Snowpiercer, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Warriors, and Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage. The remaining 17 were The 400 Blows, Big Fish, Compulsion, The Director and the Jedi, The Elephant Man, The Hunt, Laura, Paper Moon, Princess Mononoke, Ran, Sanjuro, Scarface, The Shape of Water, Strangers on a Train, Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, They Shall Not Grow Old, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Plus I also gave full marks when I wrote about rewatches of Blade Runner 2049 (in 3D) and Superman: The Movie.


I watched 39 films from 2018 during 2018, which leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I’ve not yet seen. Therefore, as is my tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen which are listed as 2018 on IMDb. That means some of these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet, but that’s the way this goes. (I have included one film that’s listed as 2017, because it only had a handful of festival screenings that year. But there was another that I was going to put here which was actually released in several countries at the end of 2017, so I decided it shouldn’t be allowed. That was, ironically, You Were Never Really Here. Oh how I laughed at the accidental pun. Now you can too, readers.)

As always, the films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety. There are many more I want to see that I could have included, but I always make some attempt to include a spread of styles, genres, successes, and failures.

Aquaman
Creed II
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Sicario 2: Soldado
Suspiria
BlacKkKlansman
Early Man
Isle of Dogs
The Predator
Skyscraper
Venom
Aquaman
Bad Times at the El Royale
Bird Box
BlacKkKlansman
Bumblebee
Cold War
Crazy Rich Asians
Creed II
Early Man
Eighth Grade
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Favourite
First Man
First Reformed
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Green Book
The Grinch
Halloween
The Happytime Murders
Hereditary
Holmes & Watson
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Johnny English Strikes Again
Leave No Trace
Love, Simon
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Mandy
Mary Poppins Returns
The Meg
Ocean’s 8
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Peter Rabbit
The Predator
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Rampage
Roma
Searching
Sicario 2: Soldado
A Simple Favour
Skyscraper
A Star is Born
Suspiria
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Tomb Raider
Upgrade
Venom
Vice
Widows
A Wrinkle in Time


Whew! That’s that over for another year. (Well, aside from the insane number of reviews I still have left to post…)

The Tercentenary Monthly Update for December 2018

This year, I watched over 300 films… just not if you count by my usual rules. I wrote about that earlier this month, so I won’t rehash it all here; but to update the numbers: my final tally of new films is 261, plus 50 in my Rewatchathon, and 8 short films to boot. Add all that up and you’ve got 319.


#248 The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
#249 Torment (1944), aka Hets
#250 Sorry to Bother You (2018)
#251 Snowpiercer (2013)
#252 Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
#253 Light the Fuse… Sartana is Coming (1970), aka Una nuvola di polvere… un grido di morte… arriva Sartana
#254 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
#255 Music in Darkness (1948), aka Musik i mörker
#256 The Shape of Water (2017)
#257 Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967), aka Zatôichi rôyaburi
#258 The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
#259 Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
#260 A Christmas Carol (2018)
#261 Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)
Snowpiercer

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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  • I watched 14 new films this month — a perfectly respectable number, really, but it’s tied with August for the lowest month of 2018. That’s the first time August has been the year’s lowest month, though December previously took the (dis)honour in 2016.
  • It also means December remains my only month to have never achieved a tally of 20+. It’s now a whole year before I can try that again (obviously).
  • And I didn’t watch a film on December 22nd, one of the three outstanding dates on which I’ve ‘never’ watched a film, so that’ll have to wait a whole ‘nother year too.
  • However, this month did beat the December average (previously 11.5, now 11.7), but wasn’t close to the monthly average for 2018, which is now finalised at 21.75.
  • Two Ingmar Bergman-related films this month: one he wrote, Torment, and one he directed, Music in Darkness. I got Criterion’s gorgeous box set for Christmas, which duplicates numerous titles from an old Tartan DVD box set I’ve owned for years, so before I get stuck into the Criterion set I’m watching the films that are unique to the Tartan set, with an eye to selling it. There are only three, though, so I’m 66.7% complete already.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: a 2013 film that only got a UK release a couple of months ago, when it was snuck out on digital-only with no fanfare. Not that that’s what held me back: I imported the US Blu-ray over four years ago. No, this is just my own inexplicable tardiness (again). Anyway, the film in question is Snowpiercer. Thankfully, it lived up to the wait and the hype.
  • And, with that, all 22 of this year’s Blindspot and WDYMYHS films are complete!



The 43rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Ooh, this is a toughie — not, as is sometimes the case, because I didn’t really love anything this month, but because there were at least three films I adored and are strong contenders for my forthcoming 2018 top ten. But on balance I’m going to plump for the dystopian sci-fi allegory of Snowpiercer.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Nothing I outright hated this month, so it’s a question of which was the most disappointing among things I at least liked. On that score, I think I have to go for Light the Fuse… Sartana is Coming, because it’s emblematic of how underwhelming I found that series on the whole.

Best “Christmas Carol” of the Month
I watched altogether too many different adaptation of A Christmas Carol this month, including a meta-ish one in The Man Who Invented Christmas, a Muppet-y one in The Muppet Christmas Carol, and a Shakespearean-studio-sitcom one in the Upstart Crow Christmas special. But I think my favourite was actually the most straightforward: a filmed version of Simon Callow’s one-man show, in which he just reads the story, basically. That’s to undersell it, though: he performs the story, and there’s some neat but not overdone direction to match. It was released in cinemas earlier in the month and screened on BBC Four over Christmas. if you missed it, it’s still on iPlayer here.

Best Spider-Man of the Month
Spider-Verse featured a surfeit of Spider-People to choose from, and while it may’ve been newbie Miles Morales’ film, with a key role for a worn-out Peter Parker, there’s definitely something to be said for Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir. Part of me wants to see a whole spin-off film starring him; part of me thinks that would be a bit much. A decent-length short film would be welcome, though.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Netflix’s Mowgli was building a comfortable lead for itself in this category, far ahead of second-placed Spider-Verse… and then Bandersnatch happened. The first “Netflix interactive film” generated a tonne of buzz on social media (it was the top trend on Twitter almost all day on its release), and I watched and reviewed it promptly. Those factors combined led to a surge of page views that saw it surpass Mowgli’s 21-day tally in under 24 hours. Of course, they’re both Netflix films, which almost always do well in these stats. And with a couple more days under its belt since then, Bandersnatch may have found itself among my most-viewed posts of the entire year, despite only being around for three days.



My evenly-spaced-throughout-the-year Rewatchathon schedule allows for four films most months, but for some reason it decided there needed to be five in December. There have to be two “five” months to get me to 50, but why did one have to be the very last month of the year?! (I mean, when you stop and think about it it’s kinda logical this would happen, but it did seem to put a burden on the final month of the task).

Anyway, I made it, so that’s jolly.

#46 The Princess Bride (1987)
#47 Scooby-Doo (2002)
#48 Death Becomes Her (1992)
#49 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
#50 The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

I don’t really feel like doing a Guide To The Princess Bride anytime soon (my backlog’s too huge as it is), but I should someday — it’s a magnificent film that, with hindsight, deserved a place in my 100 Favourites.

It wasn’t a conscious choice to end with three 1992 films back-to-back, it’s just a bizarre coincidence. Indeed, I watched Home Alone 1 last Christmas and intended to get round to the sequel back then. Instead, it took me 371 days. Though, another coincidence: they were both Rewatchathon #49.

I wrote a little about Death Becomes Her and Scooby-Doo on Letterboxd, though to the latter I’d add my highly amusing observation about the lead cast being a bunch of “before they weren’t famous” faces.


Other sites and blogs may get their year-end stuff out in December (or, if you’re Empire magazine, Oc-frickin’-tober), but if you write a blog that covers everything you see in a whole year, you ain’t done ’til 11:59:59pm on 31st December.

So, as usual, January will begin by looking back over 2018, in a series of lists and whatnot that I’ll post over the rest of this week. And then I’ll start this shebang all over again, for my 13th year. Lucky for some…