This will be my third year attending the venerable Fantasia International Film Festival here in Montreal, and this year’s slate does not disappoint. I was asked to pick the five movies I was the most excited to see. This proved to be a difficult task, seeing as how my original list had upwards of thirty titles. But here are the five that have got me the most intrigued.
The Zero Theorem
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Even though this movie has been finished for a while and already released in certain territories around the world, there’s a sense that a new Terry Gilliam movie is some form of minor miracle. Stories of Gilliam’s distended budgets, lost projects, and squabbles with producers lend the director a kind of bizarre mystique. But by all accounts, this was the easiest time Gilliam had making a movie in a while. The end result is The Zero Theorem, a science fiction film that looks heady, bizarre, and dark, just the way I like it.
After taking a couple of detours into the realms of fantasy and horror, The Zero Theorem represents director Terry Gilliam’s triumphant return to science fiction. From the synopsis alone, the film sounds like a companion piece to Gilliam’s 1985 masterpiece Brazil: an office drone (Christoph Waltz) spends his days hacking away at a formula with may or may not prove if life has any real meaning, for a nebulous being known only as ‘Management’.The themes certainly sound like vintage Gilliam: distrust of authority, eccentrics dealing with themselves, existential angst, and a generally Orwellian vibe. But from what’s available in the press materials, the theme that gets amplified here, that was present in both Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, is the corrupting, obsession-feeding power that technology can have.
Reviews out of Venice and the UK were mixed, but Gilliam is one of the directors I would follow down the rabbit hole without question or provocation, especially when the genre in question is dystopian sci-fi. Also, though screenwriter Pat Rushin is largely untested, the cast (which also includes David Thewlis, Matt Damon, and Tilda Swinton) amply is, so I have no fears about the script being brought to life in an entertaining way.
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Directed by James D. Rolfe and Kevin Finn
I can’t remember exactly where or when I first encountered the Angry Video Game Nerd, the YouTube alter ego of writer/director/star James Rolfe, but I’ve been keeping up with his creative goings-on for the better part of five years now. Progressively, my interest in Rolfe’s video’s changed: initially, their appeal was the mix of 8-bit-era nostalgia and gleeful fits of profanity. With time, though, I came to admire Rolfe’s sensibilities as a filmmaker, which embraced the incredibly small scale he was working with instead of covering it up, channeling the low-budget cinema he so admires.
With the help of friend and collaborator Kevin Finn (who shares directing and writing duties), Rolfe scrounged up about $325,000 and made a feature-length vehicle for his most famous creation. The plot follows the foul-mouthed Nerd to the New Mexican desert, hoping to debunk the existence of the infamous E.T. Atari cartridge landfill, thus saving him from the fate of having to review the consensus winner of the Worst Game of All Time crown. There are also some feds following him, since they believe his trip to the Land of Enchantment involves Area 51 somehow.
In one of his non-Nerd videos, Rolfe mentioned that his favourite movie was It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and if the trailer is any indication, the AVGN movie tries to channel some of the anarchic spirit of that Stanley Kramer film, albeit with more puke, squibs, and (duh) profanity. But Rolfe has an innate charm and likeability as a performer, which translates into his proudly low-budget B-movie stylings. Also, it just looks like a blast, the kind of movie where the cast and crew had incredible fun making it. The enthusiasm will surely be infectious.
Space Station 76
Directed by Jack Plotnick
At the 2012 edition of the festival, I was fortunate enough to catch Quentin Dupieux’s bonkers “no reason” surrealist comedy Wrong, starring one Jack Plotnick. You probably wouldn’t recognize him immediately, but you’ve definitely seen him around (sharp-eyed fans of Reno 911! know what I’m talking about). As an actor, he strikes a unique figure: wiry frame, tiny eyes that constantly look worried, and a resemblance to the hypothetical love child of Adrien Brody, Bruce Dern and Jack Nance. This time around, though, Plotnick gets behind the camera for his first full-length feature, Space Station 76.
Set in a future that distinctively smacks of the past, the film takes place aboard the good ship Omega 76, where the crew are neck-deep in personal and interpersonal turmoil. The captain’s a sexist drunkard, the tech is lost to the demon marijuana, and the only people on board who give advice are drug-dispensing robots. Will the crew get their shit together before they get obliterated by a massive, probably cheap-looking prop asteroid?
I have a thing for hyper-specific genre pastiche, and I realize that a lot of people won’t be on board with a faithful recreation of the retro-futuristic space adventures of yesteryear. But by the looks of it, Plotnick and his collaborators have gone the extra mile in replication of the look, feel and tone of a hokey 60s/70s sci-fi jam like Silent Running or Barbarella. Everything looks like it could accurately described as “groovy” or “something from The Price is Right.” The plot sounds like the soapiest of melodramas, which, given this angle, will likely make for the most absurd of comedies. After all, the best parodies are the ones you can’t tell apart from the real thing.
The Infinite Man
Directed by Hugh Sullivan
This Australian entry hooked me with its simple, promising premise: a man and a woman get stuck in an infinite loop when he messes with time trying to create (and then recreate) the perfect romantic weekend. I don’t know how similar the film is to last year’s time travel romantic comedy About Time, seeing as I haven’t watched that, but it feels like the sci-fi element is a bit harder here. Obviously, one of the main points of comparison is Shane Carruth’s masterful 2004 film Primer, itself predicated upon loops and layers and fractals. If Primer was fundamentally about friends being wedged apart by the discovery of something paradigm-shattering, The Infinite Man appears to be about how people can be wedged apart about by its very use.
I love movies where time-travel paradoxes and split timelines play an important role. But I will also be the first to admit that time-travel narratives can be a headache sometimes. It takes a smart, precise sort of craft to make a time-travel movie sing, and The Infinite Man appears to have the saving grace of simplicity in its corner. Its running time is a cool 82 minutes and it has a total listed cast of three. Sound familiar? But while Primer took the obfuscating route, dense with timeline jumps and techno-jargon, The Infinite Man seems to aim more for an easier-to-crack puzzle-movie vibe, albeit one with a romantic core. There’s an elegance to the premise that’s unmistakable, and much of the curiosity I have towards the film is in how it will handle the time-jumping and timeline-layering. I realize that consistently comparing this movie to Primer may be hyping it too much, but there’s no denying that The Infinite Man is a film to watch out for.
I really, really would have loved to be a fly on the wall at this pitch meeting. “So there’s this girl, right? Kind of a sad, loner figure. Overbearing mom, no social life to speak of, you know how it is. One day she comes across an old VHS copy of Fargo. She becomes obsessed with the film to the point where she believes in her heart of hearts that the cash Steve Buscemi buries in the snow at the end is still there. So she flies to Minnesota and tries to find it, logic and reality be damned. Melancholy hijinks ensue.”
Rinko Kikuchi’s character here speaks to me on a very primal cinephilic level because I too am obsessed with Fargo. I still think it’s a high-water mark in the filmography of the Coen brothers. I’m actually kind of hoping that this strange movie is in part about the strange shapes cinephilia can take. There’s also a neat conceptual doubling effect at play here: this is a movie based on actual events about a movie “based on actual events.” I fully expect this to be a darkly funny kind of deal, not because of the extra-textual Coen brothers ties, but because this is, after all, the story of a woman who crossed an ocean to look for treasure that isn’t there in a country she’s never been to. Depending on how you read that sentence, it’s either absurdly funny or shockingly sad. I want to see this because I want to know which side of the fence the movie’s on, or if it balances the two sides deftly, and because Rinko Kikuchi is one hell of an actress. To sweeten the pot, the reviews out of Sundance were good across the board, so that’s always a good sign.
— Derek Godin