The Zero Theorem – LFF Film Review

The Zero Theorem

Yes, a London Film Festival review. That should give you sense of just how behind schedule this review is. I saw the film back in October but it is finally out in UK cinemas this week so I had best get to reviewing it…

Typical for a Terry Gilliam film The Zero Theorem is anything but typical. The plot revolves around Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) a man living in what Gilliam has described as a Utopian future (but one that comes across as quite dystopian) working on complex computer nonsense while waiting for a phone call that he hopes will explain the meaning of life. When Waltz isn’t sitting anxiously at his computer terminal working on a bizarre computer hacking programme, sometimes naked, he is being distracted by Bob (a teenage prodigy sent by Management and played by Lucas Hedges), Bainsley (a sort of internet porn star cum prostitute played by Mélanie Thierry), and Joby (his manager played by David Thewlis).

As for what actually takes place in what little plot the film actually has… I’ll be damned if I know. As usual with Gilliam (my new catchphrase for this review) the whole film is vibrant, energetic, and filled with ideas. Whether the resulting film works for you or not will, I feel, entirely depend upon how much patience or sympathy you have for Gilliam’s aesthetic.

If I had to pick one of his previous films to compare The Zero Theorem to then I would have to plumb for Brazil as it shares a similar theme of a man fighting against the system as he chases his dreams, literally. Both exist within a future that feels quite practical and manmade as opposed to slick and sleek and neither feels the need to pander to its audience. When rewatching Brazil in preparation for writing this review I found it a lot easier to accept on its own terms when I could watch it as a piece of cinema history rather than as a piece of contemporary cinema. The two films are far from identical but Brazil as a film of the 80s is a lot easier to swallow than The Zero Theorem as a film of thirty years later. The eccentric randomness seems much less enjoyable now in the same way you will excuse a baby for dribbling but not the same person for doing the same when in their thirties.

This sounds like I am putting down Brazil which I really am not… I am putting down The Zero Theorem. The film is enjoyable to a degree (hence the three stars) but beneath the surface of wacky characters and big, empty ideas there is nothing more going on that some nice set dressing and a group of actors trying their hardest to be wacky.

A great big shrug from me.

The Zero Theorem is in UK cinemas on 14th March 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

A Liar’s Autobiography – LFF Review

Nine years before his death Monty Python member Graham Chapman wrote a fictional autobiography entitled The Liar’s Autobiography. Shortly before his death Chapman recording a reading of the book and now, 23 years after his death, these tapes have been made into an animated film featuring four other Pythons, three directors, and 17 animation styles provided by 14 different animation studios. The result is mind-blowing, brain-boggling, utterly fascinating, and endlessly revealing.

The mix of animation styles and the wild free-wheeling nature of the film makes for an attention grabbing watch. We are taken from a childhood memory to an aerial fantasy though to the Pythons as monkeys via the painted horror of a man overcoming alcohol addiction and a fairground tour of University based sexual exploits led by Chapman riding in a mechanical penis. It’s impossible to become bored as the film grabs you by the navel and pulls you from one direction to the next.

You may have noticed mention of a mechanical penis back there. While this is an animated film it is quite rightly rated at a 15 age certificate. Chapman’s was a life at times filled with sex and the film does not shy away from showing this is surprisingly graphic detail. Comically graphic detail I should say. There is no part of the film that isn’t presented with a wry smile and a charming sense of humour.

While most of the events we are shown were clearly fictional the whole film smacks of a truth that goes beyond whether or not any of it actually happened. What we are seeing is not an autobiography in a traditional sense but a visual representation of a character as a whole rather that the character’s life.

Any fan of Graham Chapman or Monty Python will love the film. I’ve never been a huge fan and I found A Liar’s Autobiography to be a delightfully surreal trip inside the mind of a comedy legend.

The Monster of Nix – LFF Review

The Monster of Nix

While playing a game of hide and seek with his gran, a boy called Willy opens his bedroom door to find that something has destroyed both his house and the village of Nix. Residents run around in panic, singing of woe and missing people (and fruit). They tell of a monster taking off with people into the woods and Willy sets off to try and find his grandmother.

This 30 minute musical, written, directed, produced and composed by Rosto is a dark fairy tale of monsters and stories and boasts the voices of Terry Gilliam and Tom Waits. The awesome and distinctive animation is a seamless mixture of CGI and live-action, played out on beautiful hand-painted backgrounds.

The ins and outs of the plot are not the easiest to follow, which isn’t helped by the sound levels seeming out of balance – the dialogue is sometimes obscured by the sound effects and music. It’s at heart an existential tale, albeit one populated by such creatures as Waits’ creepy swallow consistently mistaken for a crow, the spindly tree-like ‘Langemann’ and a rolling nudist giant.

The Monster of Nix is engaging and enjoyably strange, and could easily have stretched to feature length. For a half hour short, it is quite complicated but hits the right notes with both adults and children alike.