Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Snowpiercer, The Internet's Own Boy

The Internet's Own Boy

At this moment in time, Korea is the pits of the earth when it comes to cinema.

Kim Ki-duk's "Pieta" was far and away the vilest film of last year, and now Bong Joon-ho, director of duds "The Host" and "Mother," returns with "Snowpiercer," an intelligence-insulting mess of a movie as morally bankrupt as it is expensively mounted. 

In 2021, the nations of the world release a new chemical agent into the atmosphere to counteract global warming. Instead, Earth freezes over and all life is rendered extinct, except the passengers and crew of a single, massive train called the Snowpiercer that continues to circumnavigate the globe thanks to a perpetual motion engine (sure, why not?). One's position on the train corresponds precisely to one's social status, from the one-percenters up front, whose gourmet dinners feature tableside violinists, to the lumpen proles in the back, kept firmly in line by phalanxes of gun-toting security personnel.

The movie follows a tail-section agitator named Curtis (Chris Evans, utterly devoid of charisma) as he leads his fellow unwashed, section by section, toward the engine, manned vigilantly by the train's designer (and god of this micro-society), Wilford (Ed Harris). Among his confrŅres are Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt, while Tilda Swinton plays Mason, Wilford's sycophantic lieutenant. When's the last time this talented actress did any real acting? Made you feel an honest emotion? Here again, she's just playing a camped-up version of herself, with dialogue that wouldn't be out of place in the latest Wes Anderson vanity piece.

Bong hammers his simplistic class-warfare themes over your head at such torturous length (over two hours), you just want to disembark. (The method Wilford uses to keep the motor running during a gear jam is a real howler.) The runtime consists largely of interminable fistfights and gunfights, with a seemingly unlimited budget for cudgels, spears and machetes. Bong shows us each gash, severed limb and gaping flesh wound in gory detail. While Ondrej Nekvasil's production design must incur approbation, it’s not enough to sustain interest or cover up the glaring plot holes. (You may wonder, for instance, why Curtis and the Korean father-daughter team who detonate each successive gate for him sometimes use a translation device and sometimes understand one another perfectly.) 

A strong recommendation, on the other hand, for Brian Knappenberger's thoroughly researched biodoc "The Internet's Own Boy," about the computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who co-developed RSS feeds and co-founded Reddit and became an activist for open access to publicly funded information. His story ended sadly with the taking of his own life, two years into a legal saga in which Massachusetts prosecutors charged him with dozens of felonies for hacking into an MIT academic journal database and downloading articles for general republication. The FBI and U.S. Attorneys admitted they sought to make an example of Swartz, leaving blood on their hands for their lack of judgment and proportionality. (MIT also comes in for a certain amount of scorn for its failure to stand up for one of its own who engaged in the sort of out-of-the-box activity the school thinks of as its trademark.) Knappenberger has done well to secure forthright interviews with former colleagues, friends, lovers, mentors and Congressional supporters of Swartz's, as well as with his family (who show remarkable equanimity).

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