Saturday, February 05, 2011


Man, the new commute is just the gift that keeps on giving - not only has it made getting to work an iffy thing and nasty on the days it does happen, but it made it all too easy and tempting to see Zenith. The Regent Theatre was pretty far out of my way when the office was in Waltham, but with it now being in Burlington, the 350 bus takes me right past Arlington Center, so I actually figured to take it in on opening night. I was feeling lousy, though, so I put it off until Monday, and almost missed it then; something about the new place just seems to keep me there longer, so I wound up leaving just in time to reach the theater for the 7:30pm show.

It wound up just being me, which is always dispiriting, and I'm guessing that it was quiet over the weekend, because there was just the one guy working the theater when I arrived at around quarter past. He not only seemed surprised to see me, but had to turn on the lights at the snack bar to sell me a box of Dots and a Sierra Mist before heading to the balcony to fiddle with the Blu-ray player and projector (it's always somewhat amusing to see the menus flickering on the big screen - nobody is ever just able to push the right button once and have the properly preset picture appear).

It's tempting to do something screwy in this situation - live-tweet the movie's awfulness, walk out, the like - but I didn't, and not just because my phone was kind of low on juice. It's just a bad habit to get into. You do it when you're alone in the theater, and they you think it's OK when there's only a few people in the place and you're in the back row. Then when only a few people are behind you. It's not long before you're a complete jackass and Chris Parry is throwing pennies at your head.

There's probably a valuable lesson here in that when a movie only plays in a theater whose bread and butter is tribute bands, it's probably been bypassed for more mainstream distribution for a reason. The flip side, though, is that it seems terribly unfair that something like Zenith plays theaters but other zero-budget science fiction films like Cryptic don't even seem to get that.

(Oh, come on... I just checked the Amazon page for Cryptic. How hard is it to spell Seaver? Unbelievable; a place actually uses my name instead of just and it's "Jay Sever"!)


* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2010 at The Regent Theatre (special engagement)

Zenith is a bad no-budget science fiction movie, but at least it's considerate enough to place itself toward the end of the alphabet. After all, while it did somehow manage to get itself booked in a few theaters in advance of its video-on-demand premiere, it will mostly be lurking on long menus displayed by cable boxes and computers, and this positioning means that potential viewers probably will never get to it at all, and if they work their way through all the other options listed before "Zenith" - well, what the heck, they may as well watch it. By that point, they've probably seen worse.

In 2044, people are genetically engineered to be happy all the time, but that didn't work out as well as planned; instead, folks are mostly numb. Jack (Peter Scanavino), a medical school dropout, roots through old buildings to find expired drugs whose side effects of massive pain are highly prized, testing on himself. He's got a mute sidekick, Nimble (Al Nazemian), who's good with a gun, and soon meets Lisa (Ana Asensio), who surprises him by using the sort of emotionally-charged words he recites into a mirror just to remind himself they exist. One day, he comes across a suitcase with videotapes of his father Ed (Jason Robards III), and gets sucked into investigating the bizarre conspiracy theories that the unhinged man rants about - but even though the tapes are thirty-odd years old, it seems he's getting into something dangerous.

Thirty-odd years in our past, Zenith might have seemed like something exciting or thought-provoking, maybe even praiseworthy. Today, though, it just feels old-hat and actually rather lazy. The conspiracy theory lacks a particular hook to distinguish it from the dozens we've seen before. The world of the future is of the hand-me-down variety, where the filmmakers try to make a "gritty", "realistic" tomorrow out of disheveled clothes and run-down locations; it would work better if it implies a more specific string of events than just general decay. The last-act twists are surprising but not shocking because even if they were things the audience hadn't seen many times before, they don't undercut anything that the audience has really taken to heart. It's a movie made out of the same elements two generations of previous independent filmmakers have used to do sci-fi on the cheap, without any new additions or clever combinations.

Full review at EFC.

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