Friday, September 19, 2014

Terry Gilliam's back -- with Christoph Waltz & starry supporting cast in THE ZERO THEOREM

The good news new is that Terry Gilliam, fantasist extraordinaire and delightful visualist, is back. And with a movie he was actually able to complete, unlike his try at Don Quixote, which brought us only a documentary about how and why that movie never happened. The pretty-good news is that his new film, titled THE ZERO THEOREM, is much better than Tideland -- his last fully completed movie in the manner in which he intended and which I must admit to being unable to finish (I may try again when I'm older and either wiser or more senile) -- but not as interesting or as much fun as The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Heath Ledger's last and uncompleted movie: Mr Gilliam, whatever flaws he may possess as a man and writer/director, has surely had more than his fair share of bum luck).

In his newest diversion, the filmmaker (shown at right) is giving us another portion to mull over of what he has already given us in Brazil, of which The Zero Theorem will surely remind you (it will also bring to mind everything from Blade Runner and The Fifth Element to a much more recent film, The Congress With Robin Wright.

Yes, this is another futuristic, dystopian sci-fi/fantasy with philosophical/theological over/undertones.

If you, as I, have been impressed with the versatile Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (above), and are always happy to see him tackle something new, this is yet another reason to catch the film. With his shaved head and near-hairless body, Mr. Waltz looks nothing like he has in any other film but is still a pleasure to see and hear. When Gilliam seems to repeat himself or give in to some fairly obvious clichés of the genre he's chosen, watching Waltz provides an immediate antidote.

The story, a full-length MacGuffin of sorts, has to do with the title theorem, proof of which will result in our finally knowing for certain that there is no reason or point to our entire universe (not to mention our tiny lives as part of it). This is rather like the reverse of proving that god exists: an irrelevant exercise, but what the hell.... Waltz plays a supposedly genius-level fellow named Qohen Leth (that first name is pronounced something like "Quinn, though every other character says it differently, one from the next). So, can this theorem be proven? And does it even matter? Probably not. Not, at least, to Gilliam, nor to us.

Surrounding Qohen are a bevy of weird characters (films like this have no other kind) played by talented "name" actors, who bring some needed pizazz to the goings-on. These would include the likes of Matt Damon as Management, the by-now rather generic bad guy; his son Bob (Lucas Hedges, above, center) who may not a bad sort, after all; Mélanie Thierry (two photos above) as the hooker with a heart of gold bought and paid for by management as a sop/hindrance to Qohen; David Thewlis as Qohen's immediate boss; and the ever-wonderful Tilda Swinton as our hero's online therapist (Ms Swinton is the movie's finest delight: we even get to hear her rap a bit.)

If the movie doesn't finally say much or mean much, and though there is nothing really new here, at least Gilliam has a lot of fun with his often striking visuals. As interesting as is Qohen's home -- a converted monastery decked out with a lot of surveillance (this is one of the movie's much-used themes) -- it's the filmmaker's exterior shots that are the most fun. There is one wall, quite funny, that is glimpsed in the background, on which is listed symbolically all the current Don'ts in this society.

So, if The Zero Theorem doesn't scintillate, neither does it bore. From Amplify, the film opened today -- Friday, September 19 -- in a limited run all across the country. In New York City, it's playing at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas. Click here, then scroll down, to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. 

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