By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 19, 2014 at 2:37PM
New to streaming now: a promising breakthrough film and the latest from one of cinema's unluckiest but most beloved cult filmmakers.
The first is 2012's "Middle of Nowhere," the second narrative feature from Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American woman to win Sundance's Best Director Award with the film (she also won an Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award). The film stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as a woman who gives up working as a medical student to be near the prison where her husband is serving his sentence. Uncommonly intelligent and impressive without being showy, "Middle of Nowhere" signals the arrival of a major talent. (Her upcoming "Selma" is scheduled to arrive in theaters this Christmas.)
Way on the other side of the reality/fantasy divide is Terry Gilliam's long-awaited "The Zero Theorem," his first film since 2009's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," making its VOD debut a month before it receives a limited release in theaters. The film stars Christoph Waltz as a computer genius trying to find meaning in life through a formula. It received mixed reviews at the Venice Film Festival last year, and even some of the more positive notices are measured.
But anything described by its director as part of a loose trilogy with "Brazil" and "Twelve Monkeys," two of his best films, is at least of some interest. Those looking for a Gilliam fix before he makes his 468th attempt to get "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" off the ground (seemingly against the will of the gods) should seek this one out.
Sam Adams, The A.V. Club
With unfussy lyricism and a hard-nosed lack of sentiment, DuVernay sets Corinealdi on the fine line between loyalty and self-sacrifice, wondering at what point, if any, her devotion to maintaining her marriage might slide into simple foolishness. When a bus driver (David Oyelowo) begins, subtly but persistently, to explore the limits of her commitment, she rebuffs him, but her curiosity is piqued—less because of loneliness or sexual desire, though those certainly factor in, than because she herself wonders how strong she is, and whether strength consists in shutting out temptation or facing it up close. Read more.
Jason Bailey, The Atlantic
Corinealdi is an actress previously unknown to me, but she has tremendous presence and knows how to engage the camera, which seems particularly tuned to the tiny displays of fear and regret that occasionally flicker across her warm, compassionate face. The character's dedication to a possibly/probably doomed relationship could be played as weakness, but she goes the other way—she willmake this work and will not be told otherwise, and thus when things falls apart, it's all the more devastating. The way she finds her footing after that is where the movie's real power lies, and when she says, near the end, "This is not how we're supposed to be living," the directness and honesty of her words is remarkable. Read more.
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
"Middle of Nowhere" isn't a highly charged drama, as you might have gathered. Most of the action takes place within the mind of a lonely woman. That's why Corinealdi is so effective in the lead. Yes, she's beautiful, but this film isn't about her beauty. It's about Ruby's stubborn and undeserved loyalty to a husband who lacks anything like her strength. Even in the film's calm, gentle romantic scenes with Oyelowo, Corinealdi brings a grave dignity. Read more.
Peter Howell, The Toronto Star
As usual with Gilliam’s films, the production is more delightful to behold than to parse. Sight gags abound, such as a party scene where participants remain plugged into their smartphones rather than communing in person. There’s a real sense of melancholy in the film, a lament that we have all been too eager to trade the human realm for the virtual one. Read more.
Tara Karajica, The Film Prospector
"The Zero Theorem" is rowdy, confused and confusing. Furthermore, the big final question will not be answered to everybody’s satisfaction but "The Zero Theorem" is a film with a message (although not very developed): its futuristic setting openly mocks today’s commercialized, corporate and computer-ridden way of life. It is also a film about depression and fear of death. Indeed, in spite of its flaws, "The Zero Theorem" is a very personal and moving film (maybe because Gilliam, who is 72, is facing the idea of his own eventual demise and meditating on it?) as Qohen moves towards a sort of acceptance of the brevity of his time on Earth in the grand scheme of the Universe. What is fascinating about The Zero Theorem are all its intertwined metaphysical and philosophical meditations, its own search for meaning while at the same time dealing with the search of meaning itself and the acceptance of meaninglessness. Read more.
Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist
We’re always rooting for Gilliam, but the recent run of films had made us wonder whether it was becoming something of a fools’ errand to do so. Fortunately, his latest, “The Zero Theorem,” restores some of the faith. It’s not an unreserved return to form, but it’s an admirably ambitious and thoughtful sci-fi mindbender that movingly takes stock as the director enters his 70s. Read more.