Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A little "transmedia" treat called ZENITH sneaks into NYC's Cinema Purgatorio

Billed as a "retro-futuristic-steampunk thriller" (TrustMovies had to look up steampunk, as he evidently missed that sub-genre during its 80s & 90s heyday) -- and so full of attendant web links that you could, after watching the 92-minute movie, spend the rest of your day (if not your life) accessing them and following all the clues and mysteries within -- ZENITH is something else. In fact, according to the film's press kit, "Zenith invites its audience to participate in and expand the film's storyline by finding, downloading and collecting pieces of the Zenith narrative (the "tapes" that are spoken of and occasionally shown throughout the film) and then reconstructing them through active groups on social media sites." My god.

Don't plan to ever work, date, eat, sleep or fuck again. Just dedicate your life to Zenith -- in which most of those activities, along with some others, are taken care of on-screen. Ah, the brave new world of the world-wide-web!

The movie's poster tells us that this is "a film by Anonymous" (my, that guy gets around!) that the ubiquitous "they" don't want you to see. Within the film we find that it is actually credited to an "experiment supervisor and producer" (which means maybe, written and directed by?), Vladan Nikolic, a filmmaker from the former Yugoslavia who is shown at right and who, a few years back, gave us Love and Burn. Despite all the bells and whistles connected to Zenith, the movie itself must be the centerpiece here, right? Without it, without watching it, who would give a rat's ass for any of the links that stem from it?

Taken simply as a piece of narrative cinema that combines paranoid conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View with distopian soceity scenarios (such as the recent and infinitely better Never Let Me Go), in which the power elite conspire to live longer off the backs (and other body parts) of its lesser citizens, Zenith is a pale imitation. It does manage to offer a bit of fun and surprise, along with a couple of nice moments from smart actors in very small parts (Zohra Lampert and Jay O. Sanders).

The movie opens with a "hats off" to the experi-ments of Stanley Milgram(Where would moviemakers be without this guy? The best of this cribbing from Milgram, so far, goes to the German film, The Experiment.) Then we are clued-in to just what kind of dystopian society this is: a world of so much and such constant joy and satisfaction that what is needed and most sought after is pain. Oh, please. One intelligent look at the word's societies over history, so sheep-like are the populaces, can you imagine for a moment that people wouldn't opt for continual pleasure over anything else? So, already the movie's in big, silly trouble. And the plot, such as it is, in which two characters, whom I think are actually father and son in two different time frames, search for the key to the Zenith conspiracy (that's the name given to the power elite).

Dad Ed (Jason Robards III, above) has his set of friends, enemies and helpers, and son Jack (Peter Scanavino, below) has his. The latter's include a sexy, leggy femme (Ana Asensio, shown two photos above), who has quite the naughty father (David Thorton) in tow. I think that's all you need to know. The finale may put you in mind of  the recent and very tiresome Shutter Island, but Zenith, at least, is a good deal shorter. Overall the film barely squeaks by, reeking with coincidence after coincidence. At one point Jack (usually known, he explains, as Dumb Jack) calls our attention to a moment of déjà vu. Hello? The whole movie feels like déjà vu.

I have to say that the film does perk up a bit in the final 20 minutes -- when the déjà vu goes into different territory. We get some surprises that lead to new questions, even if these, too, seem to go around in circles. (The entire movie offer a kind of circular effect.) Once you've finished watching, if your interest is piqued, there are always those many transmedia links to hook up with and perhaps follow. Do any of us have time to spend following links and/or going to chat rooms to discuss, interact with and comment on these clues, tapes and such. If I did that I wouldn't have time for my next week's worth of reviews, but perhaps you'll fare better. If so, simply click here, get those missing  links, and maybe STOP ZENITH! you young web-schooled activists, you.

Meanwhile, the thing itself -- Zenith minus any links and further investigation -- opens for an 8-day run at New York City's Cinema Purgatorio at the Kraine Theater on East 4th Street.  You can click here -- then scroll down -- to check out other playdates and theaters around the country.

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