My Favorite things in 2014 - Day 12

Today lines up a trio of science fiction movies, that while not perfect, were films that I thoroughly enjoyed, and feel that were either missed or done a disservice by their positions under many folk's radars. All three are definitely far better movies than their results at the box office suggest.

First up is Edge of Tomorrow, or Live, Die, Repeat, or whatever it is they want to call it now. Name changes aside, this one took a relatively simple concept - that characters are reborn upon death to play out the same previous few days before their deaths again and again, in the hope of changing the outcome of a viscous war with an alien race, and manages to pace itself through a feature length movie without too much bloat. The final act may have fallen a little flat in its predictable conclusion, but it's still a fun romp.

Proceedings are also aided by the chemistry between the two leads, Tom Cruise is on form as a very Tom Cruise type character, although he plays the clueless coward well at the start as well, and Emily Blunt's kick-ass heroine and propaganda idol never feels out of place.

It may have tanked somewhat at the box office, but I still say it's well worth the watch if you want some fun, straight forward, science fiction action.

Next up is Automata, a movie that barely even registered a pulse at the box office, mainly due to virtually non-existent distribution (at least in the US). It clearly wanted to explore the same territory as the seminal Bladerunner, and maybe a little of I Robot for good measure, but still had an interesting world at it's core.

Spanish director Gabe Ibáñez's vision of a believable future world, dealing with the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, but surviving with a society intact, is well realized. While the script is probably the weakest of the three films here, it does have a lot of interesting elements going for it. The problem is that the narrative is muddled and it can't quite decide what movie it wants to be. It's an uneven affair and once the movie ends up in the desert and away from the urban sprawl of the first act, it wasn't just the characters that found themselves a little lost. Stripped of the fascinating world he has built, the director struggles a little with the latter half of the film.

That said, I'd still say it's worth the watch for science fiction fans. Its an original world, with a good cast who try their best even when things get a little loose towards the end.

Saving the best for last, and I mean the very best, is Snowpiercer. This one is probably one of my top three movies this year. It came from nowhere for most. A film by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, and adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer is both essential science fiction, social commentary (albeit obviously so), and also a wonderfully constructed, fantastically shot, and well written film.

This one got the film student in me excited (and I'm not the only one, spoiler warning, but this video is a great glimpse into the artistry on show. Watch the movie then watch this dissection of one element.). I have the feeling that this one is a movie that fans of film itself will discuss for a while.

It really is superbly shot. It's an art house movie masquerading as a science fiction action flick. That's probably doing it a disservice, because it's both.

So what's it about? This will give you an idea

Like I said, the social commentary is obvious. However in many ways that theme is actually a trick, a distraction that both frames and hides some wonderful narrative development, that is firmly rooted in it's protagonist, and his choices. The movie is so much more than the blatant use of a tiered society to create a world that you can immediately relate to and comprehend. It is the eternal class struggle between the haves in power, and the down trodden have-nots. The rich, and the poor. The powerful and the disenfranchised. That pulls you in instantly, and then allows the director to take you on a crazy, inspired, and occasionally brilliant, voyage with our heroes through the train. 

The cast is uniformly great. This is the best I have seen Chris Evans, and the rest of the cast turn in strong performances throughout.

Whether it's because it was a foreign director, or a strange concept I don't know, but this one deserves way more recognition than it has gotten so far, and deserves a wider audience.

Go see it, you won't regret it.