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Opening 11/14: Whiplash
Fri. - October 31 - 7:00 - 9:00 pm ASat. - November 1 - 4:00 - 7:00 - 9:00 pmASun. - November 2 - 2:15 - 7:15 pm SMon. - November 3 - 7:00 pm STues. - November 4 - Not ShowingWed. - November 5 - 7:00 pm SThurs. - November 6 - Not Showing
SYNOPSIS: Andrew Lau (the Infernal Affairs trilogy) and Andrew Loo co-direct this crime thriller executive produced by Martin Scorsese, and starring Ray Liotta as a New York City detective conducting a murder investigation involving the city's notorious Green Dragons gang. Harry Shum, Jr. (Glee) and Justin Shon co-star. Inspired by the New Yorker article of the same name by journalist Frederic Dannen.
SELECTED REVIEW: Don't let some of the pedigree that "Revenge of the Green Dragons" can whip out fool you - executive producer/"presenter" Martin Scorsese and co-director Andrew Lau have made some transcendent gangster movies, but this one is more or less the sort of lurid fare its name suggests. This is not an argument against it, mind you; what better way is there to tell the story of an Asian-American street gang than by bringing some Hong Kong style to old-school grindhouse?
The Green Dragons recruited Steven Wong and his foster brother Sonny early, when they were middle-schoolers fairly fresh off the boat in 1982. Seven years later, they've moved up; Sonny (Justin Chon) is handling collections, while the more fiery Steven (Kevin Wu) brandishes a knife. It roughly parallels the gang's leaders, clean-cut Paul Wrong (Harry Shum Jr.) and his right-hand-man Chen Chung (Leonard Wu), who know that if they keep things relatively clean, the NYPD will mostly assign rookie cops, even if one guy at the FBI (Ray Liotta) is starting to sniff around due to a general belief that immigration is a ticking time bomb.
The film is based upon actual people and events, but it doesn't really need to be; while it may not follow the gangster-movie template exactly, there is not a lot to the movie that audiences have not seen before. If anything, the screenplay by Michael Di Jiacomo and co-director Andrew Loo primarily distinguishes itself via exceptional cynicism: There is never much effort made to build the Green Dragons or other gangs up as social structures offering some sort of honor, unity, or camaraderie; they are assemblies of thugs from minute one, appealing mainly because the alternative seems to be exploitation that is tantamount to slavery.
Given how up front the filmmakers are with these gangs' entirely self-serving nature, it's perhaps not surprising that bits of the movie ring kind of hollow. When Sonny's narration is dissing some of the other gangs, it sounds a bit like bluster because there's nothing to his professed loyalty - at one point he says they worship Paul like a god, but it's hard to see that cult of personality, especially when the movie starts turning on things that don't fit in as either cold rationality or operatic stories of divided loyalty.
Part of the trouble is that Justin Chon can't do a lot with some really hackneyed narration, although he's got a presence that grows on the audience as the film goes on, giving the impression of being level-headed even as he winds up being emotionally driven because he is forming connections with people. Kevin Wu gets to play Steven as a bit more of a hothead, and does all right there. Similarly, Harry Shum Jr. doesn't misstep as Paul Wong, although he doesn't quite live up to being worshiped. It would have been great to have Eugenia Yuan play a more direct role as the "Snake Head Mama" who is apparently the power behind the gang. Similarly, there seems to be a missed opportunity with Jin Auyeun and Billy Magnussen as the rookie cop team that pairs a passionate Chinese-American with a kind of dim-seeming white guy. Ray Liotta at times seems to just show up, but he's also playing the part with some awareness that Agent Bloom is just showing up himself.
Directors Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Andrew Loo have the same sort of ability to recognize what sort of movie they're making, and that's probably why even when the hollow moments of the film don't feel flat. They don't go in for self-parody, but when it's time for some violence, they're more likely to go or the throat than stand back. They and Di Jiacomo have things to say about how immigration can be a trap, especially during this period (news clips track how American public opinion shifted from seeing immigrants as being brave but sadly exploited to seeing them as parasites), but they are keenly aware that the audience is here for bloddy mayhem and shocking reversals, and they give the audience what they want without seeming to pander.
Andrew Lau does what he can to make things look great - he infuses what is a low-budget movie by American standards with a fair amount of the style one expects from Hong Kong crime - but there's only so much he and Loo can do without a really exceptional central performance or an unusually clever hook beyond how you don't often see movies like this with an Asian-American cast. That environment doesn't hurt the movie at all, but it's not quite enough to put it up with the great gangster epics.
Thurs. - October 30 - Not ShowingFri. - October 31 - 7:15 - 9:15 pm SSat. - November 1 - 4:15 - 7:15 - 9:15 pmSSun. - November 2 - 4:15 pm SMon. - November 3 - Not ShowingTues. - November 4 - 7:00 pm SWed. - November 5 - Not ShowingThurs. - November 6 - 7:00 pm S
SYNOPSIS: The Zero Theorem is a sci-fi movie directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys) that features a socially inept computer genius who delves into a mysterious project to discover the very purpose of existence itself. The Management at the computer genius' organization continually interfere with his project and formulate a plan involving a love interest that may actually provide the very thing he was looking for in the first place
Terry Gilliam, the onetime Monty Python animator turned influential filmmaker, is incapable of putting a dull image onscreen. "The Zero Theorem," his first science fiction movie since 1996's "Twelve Monkeys," is a visual dazzler on the level we'd expect from the director. As always, he fills the screen with intricately choreographed tableaus that have that ferociously jumbled quality: there are usually four or five things going on in each shot, and they're always related to the film's main themes. The cast, which includes Christoph Waltz, Melanie Theirry, Matt Damon and David Thewlis, is world-class. It's hard to imagine how any individual part of the physical production could be improved.
But the movie's allegory-steeped plot — in which Waltz's, Qohen Leth, who "crunches entities" for a technology company called Mancom, tries to solve a theorem that'll reveal if life has meaning — is a case of "close, but no cigar." And no matter how feverishly Gilliam directs and no matter how enthusiastically his actors act, the whole thing remains too, er, theoretical—as if its main purpose is to demonstrate or disprove certain propositions rather than invest us in the hero's quest for happiness and enlightenment. Knowing Gilliam's humanism, this seems unlikely, but that's what comes through.
Screenwriter Richard Pushin was reportedly inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes, but the plot seems equally influenced by "Waiting for Godot," "1984" and the collected works of Franz Kafka (the latter two sources shaped Gilliam's "Brazil" as well). Even though it was written directly for the screen, "Zero Theorem" often feels like a stage play that was adapted without being fully remained as a movie. It's visually energetic but ultimately feels constrained and repetitious. The main locations are Mancom headquarters, a nightclub filled with writhing revelers, and the hero's apartment/laboratory, a cavernous space with a black-and-white chessboard-style floor and smoky shafts of light streaming through windows. The cathedral-like quality of Quohen's place befits the spiritual pilgrim who occupies it. Quohen has been depressed and angry for a long time because he keeps hoping for a phone call that will assure him that life has meaning (shades of "Godot") ; when it finally arrives, he muffs it and spends the rest of the movie beating himself up.
Quohen is reassigned to work at home by the company's psych evaluator, Dr Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton), an artificially intelligent computer program who simulates warmth and involvement. (Swinton is hilariously intense here; between this role and her bucktoothed-Ayn-Rand routine in "Snowpiercer," the Hugos should give her a Most Valuable Player award.) Quohen gets diagnosed with ailment after ailment and eventually dons a body suit that connects him directly to the Internet, making his physical being virtual. It's red and green, with a hoodie cap like a droopy Alpine horn that tapers into braided, vaguely intestinal cables. When Quohen wears the suit while sitting at his terminal typing, the image suggests a porn-addicted Christmas elf.
Other characters drift in and out of the story, alleviating or increasing the hero's irritability and spiritual malaise. The curvy blond Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) rescues Quohen at a party when he nearly chokes on an olive, and proves responsible for getting him reassigned to work at home, then keeps reappearing in his life, eventually providing him with his signature elf suit and then being revealed as a secret Internet striptease artist. Many of the characters evoke indelible players from Gilliam's "Brazil": there's a Walter Mitty or Winston Smith-type wise-yet-meek everyman (the hero), an obnoxious mediocrity of a supervisor (David Thewlis), and a blandly intimidating boss (Matt Damon), whose character is identified only as Management, and whose natty suits, owlish eyeglasses, grey hair and dulcet voice make him seem like Peter Bogdanovich's all-powerful kid brother.
There are some twists and turns in the plot, all having to do with the true meaning and purpose of the Zero Theorem. At the end, the mysteries are laid out for us methodically, as if we're seeing the philosophical version of a drawing-room mystery where the murderer is the Frankensteinian post-capitalist society we've all gotten way too comfortable with, and the victim is the human soul.
I wish, however, that the characters were allowed to be as well as to represent, if that makes sense. Gilliam's other films, even the bad ones, all managed to balance the need to deliver aphorisms and lessons against the obligation to involve us in the characters' plights. Every character in this movie remains stubbornly and elusively abstract. We know what everybody stands for, but we never really know them. After a while you start to miss the aching humanity of Sam Lowry in "Brazil" or the lovers in "Twelve Monkeys," or the exquisitely fragile energy of Robin Williams in Gilliam's "The Fisher King."
The movie's at its most engaging when it's just showing us the world that causes Quohen such distress. An early scene in which the hero leaves his abode and tries to walk along a city thoroughfare while a video ticker on the side of a building tracks him with tailored sales pitch is a marvelous comment on how technology turns every environment into a retail outlet, and every person into a target of opportunity. (It's like that moment in "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise walks through a mall while ads chirp at him.) There are some exquisitely blocked and executed long takes, and a virtual-fantastical interlude on a tropical beach that ranks with the best scenes Gilliam has directed. In its better moments, "Zero Theorem" does seem like the work of a brilliantly cranky cartoonist who's spent years obsessing over what the world has become, then finally sat down, opened a sketchbook and started drawing. The problem is, once you've watched "Zero Theorem," you'd rather go look at the sketchbook.
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