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‘Snowpiercer’ an intriguing science fiction find

July 9, 2014 | G. Michael Dobbs

What does a movie guy watch when he isn’t viewing something he has to? He trolls Netflix and catches up with a number of films that either he has heard about and not seen or doesn’t know exists.

My Roku has been working overtime of late – it’s a device that connects your TV with an Internet-based group of television services – and I’ve been mining the Netflix streaming catalog.

I’m a sucker for documentaries and Netflix’s evil geniuses are savvy enough to suggest one after another to me.

The stream started with “Dear Mr. Watterson,” a mostly successful look at the legacy of cartoonist Bill Watterson whose creation, the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip, is still influencing other comic strip artists and acquiring new readers. Watterson, who is a notorious recluse, is not interviewed on camera and in fact the filmmaker didn’t even attempt to do so, but many of the other interviews fill in the blanks pretty well.

Far more successful was a very engaging documentary titled, “That Guy … Who was in that Thing.” The film examines the lives and careers of 16 male character actors, many of who have faces any fairly serious movie watcher will recognize. The most well known of the group is Paul Guilfoyle, who has been playing Capt. Jim Brass on “CSI” for years.

The actors are very candid in describing what it is like to be a working actor – not a star – and the peaks and valleys of their profession. My wife and I found it to be pretty compelling material.

“Sunset Strip” told the history of the roadway that connects Hollywood to Beverly Hills and was very illuminating. I had little idea of how the thoroughfare had changed from a place with roadhouses to a snazzy nightclub area to a home for the counter-culture of the 1960s and the place where comedy legends learned their craft.

And for us baby boomers, the documentary pointed out there is actually no address with the street number of 77 – a reference to the popular 1960s show, “77 Sunset Strip.     

Next up was “Addicted to Fame,” a truly amazing piece of work. Vermont-based filmmaker David Giancola had a thriving career making low-budget science fiction films when he and his producing partner, actor John James, came up with the idea of making a movie starring Anna Nicole Smith. Little did they realize how difficult making a film with her would be, much less riding the publicity train she created and fueled.

They also had no idea how their own lives and careers would be affected by her untimely death.

Giancola may not have been the best low-budget film director, but he made an amazing documentary, largely because he assigned a camera crew to shoot  documentary footage of the production of his sci-fi comedy “Illegal Aliens.” He was also more than willing to be critical of his own actions and motivations and the price he paid for them.

At the theaters
I’m hoping that “Snowpiercer” has more than a one-week run at the Amherst Cinema as this intriguing science fiction film is well worth of the effort to see it.

Directed by Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong, best known for his film “The Host,” the movie tells a post-apocalyptic tale. In the future, an effort to combat global warming backfires and the earth is now a Arctic wasteland. Only one person, an engineering genius named Wilford, was prepared for this situation. He had constructed a self-sustaining ecosystem on a train, which circles the globe once a year.

The train is divided into social and economic groups and the people in the rear of the train live in squalid conditions. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans) they decide to take over the train to improve their condition.

It’s an outrageous premise, but if you stick with it you should be rewarded with some very solid performances as well as an intriguing story. If you miss it, be sure to catch it on DVD when it is released or check to see if it’s available through Video on Demand through your cable system.

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