The Zero Theorem (R)

5 Stars

Ever heard of Harry Potter?

This is nothing like that.

David Thewlis, also known as Professor Lupin, is the only similarity between the two narratives.

The Z.T.’s bleak, folks.

It’s dark, foreboding and existential. To follow a recent trend it’s also allegorical. Therefore, things can get confusing.

[Quick sidebar: Counting Snowpiercer this marks Tilda Swinton’s second supporting role in a sci-fi allegory in the past year. What an oddly specific niche.]

Should you see it?

It depends on your viewing habits. If you’re a movie review blogger, you can do a lot worse than The Zero Theorem.

But for the average viewer, I wouldn’t recommend. There are plenty of better options available for rental. Skim some of my earlier blog posts if you need suggestions.

The price bugs me.

If you’re still interested it’s available for HD rental thru Xfinity OnDemand, iTunes and Amazon for $9.99.

Ten bucks feels like too much.

Despite the straight to VOD release, The Z.T. is a lot more ambitious than the trailer lets on. The preview lead me to believe director Terry Gilliam mailed it in.

But alas!

This movie contains a lot of solid material.

Where else are you going to find a pink chaise lounge?

Portions of the environment are sources of great irritation and intrigue. But I suppose that’s the Terry Gilliam thing. Much of the physical setting is reminiscent of 12 Monkeys, another mind-bending dystopian movie involving time travel and paradoxes.

Z.T.‘s futuristic landscape is elaborate and compelling. The streets are covered with graffiti; digital advertisements and adhesive ‘tags’ plastered all over the alleyway.

I’d say The Zero Theorem‘s right on par with A Dozen Bonobos.

Although I haven’t seen Brazil, my favorite Gilliam is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Watch it instead if it’s eluded you thus far.

For those dead-set on catching Z.T. here’s a couple notes on the casting.

Christoph Waltz stars as Qohen, and never ceases to impress.

After major supporting roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, he plays a completely different character here.

From the cadence of his voice to the movement of his gaze, it’s obvious he works hard to differentiate himself between roles.

What a dynamite thespian – good on ya, Christoph!

Matt Damon plays a small supporting role as ‘Management,’ and he’s excellent.

So add another bullet to the long list of ‘Good Reasons to Adore Mr. D.’

David Thewlis and Tilda Swinton are great. Lucas Hedges is good.

But far and away my favorite character is Bainsley.

Mélanie Thierry delivers an awesome performance, particularly befitting the Gilliam modus operandi. She’s got that twittery futuristic spunk, the neon haired quirketude. Which sounds grating, but it’s actually quite cute and delightful.

Part of this is thanks to the writing. In order to fill out the futuristic world in a realistic fashion, screenwriters often utilize the cyberpunk diction. It’s an alien form of English, and often seems bizarre at first.

It works well here, particularly because of the acting.

Every once in a while Bainsley will say something like, “You got a mouse in your pocket?” her charisma reminding the viewer to notice the occasional warmth.

Despite the bleak premise.

There is a lot of social commentary buried throughout. Some of it is a bit on-the-nose, like the satirical news station, ‘Dumbc’ or some such silliness.

But the more subtle stuff can really bolster a scene. When Qohen first meets Bainsley, it’s jarring to see the partygoers ‘fake smoking.’ At first it seems like quirk for the sake of quirk.

These moments are a lot more nuanced than they appear, however.

During a later scene, Qohen is sitting on a park bench. The backdrop is a swarm of ‘No [Insert Fun Activity] Allowed’ signs.

The visual flood of placards is both an eyesore and quite a strong metaphor.

Terry seems to envision a future in which we’re plagued by bureaucratic overregulation.

Considering the recent discussion regarding the heroic San Franciscans and their unending skirmish against synthetic shopping totes, I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Gill.i.Am.

Finally, I really enjoyed the artificial reality. The blending of digital pornography and prostitution offers a compelling and original spin on the sci-fi construct.

By the by, it’s ironic considering Qohen’s pursuing an answer to the ultimate question.

But he can’t install a little bit of conduit?

Snowpiercer (R)

8 Stars

Dystopian societies are hip.

So are post-apocalyptic civilizations.

It’s rare to find them together without robots, space travel or undead.

Snowpiercer is based off a French sci-fi graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, which colloquially translates to “The Train of the Snow Land.”

And boy is it fun.

It’s available for HD Rental through iTunes and Amazon for $6.99, or a dollar more through Xfinity OnDemand.

This is South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s third film. Mother was released in 2009 after his creature feature The Host from 2006.

Which, far as subtitled scary flicks go, is not a bad film.

Unless foreign horror’s your wheelhouse, you can skip The Host, and move right along to Snowpiercer.

It’s Bong’s first English-speaking film, and although this is clear at times, it’s a remarkable experience.

Set entirely on a train circumventing the world, this post-doomsday thriller is riveting, intelligent and visually stunning.

Chris Evans is good as the protagonist. He’s catching a lot of critical flack for his performance. There’s a moment late in the movie where he delivers an emotional piece of dialogue that’s a bit jarring.

Perhaps a superior actor could have delivered the line better. I’d argue it wasn’t strong writing in the first place.

Other than that, Chris gets the job done.

The characters encounter quite a bit of combat, all of which involve intricate physical procedures. Between the battleship in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the blade car in Snowpiercer, Chris plays the centerpiece in two of the finest fights in cinematic history. And they were released within three months of each other.

When it comes to action sequences, the director does everything right. He utilizes long takes, different camera lenses, varied setting features, drastic changes in momentum, realistic physical contact, slow motion (there’s an outstanding sequence in which Evans dispatches several thugs with a felling axe), martial arts, weaponry, tag-teaming. The list goes on and on.

The supporting cast is great as well.

Jamie Bell, who you know from Billy Elliot, turns in a solid performance as the jokester best friend.

Upon reaching the classroom car, the schoolteacher’s played by Alison Pill. She, like Tilda Swinton, performs a quirksome role. Their characters are odd (in different ways) but the actresses pull it off.

Bong’s got Octavia Spencer pounding dudes with body shots, with fists and a piece of metal pipe on-screen!

It’s just delightful.

If you dig fights, Snowpiercer’s the flick to rent.

That being said, I think the ladies won’t like this as much. The story is thoroughly bleak and imperfect.

In fact, I agree with much of what the critics are saying. The boundary between reality and metaphor is blurry to the point of confusion.

The narrative’s allegorical which makes it difficult to connect with the characters on a human level.

Events unfold in a manner that feels more orchestrated than organic.

Despite its imperfection, the story is still thrilling and sweeps you up.

Just like the animated sequence describing the rail’s creation, this movie’s full of style.

This tendency doesn’t continue after the ending, though. So you can shut the movie off once the credits start to roll.

After reading up and carving thru all the confusion, the ending’s a tad bit dissatisfying. My buddy fell asleep, and I’m still not in love with it.

As a final note, there is an aspect of this story I find gross.

People respond to the grotesque in four ways: 1) Revulsion 2) Silent Distaste 3) Cool Indifference 4) Embracement.

I’m weak in this area. I’m a 2 but would rather be a 3, like my friend who watched Snowpiercer with me.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But my buddy disagrees.

We both agree, however, it’s totally worth the ride along the way.

So to the 1’s I suggest caution.

To the 2’s I say, “Power through, compadres.”

To the 3’s, keep chilling.

And to the 4’s, God help you.