Today I'm grouping two brilliant but flawed movies together as a single entry. These ones represent two very different forms of science-fiction that definitely don't easily slot into genre expectations, just for very, very, different reasons.
I watched Under the Skin twice, and I'm still not entirely sure whether it's truly a great movie or not. It's most certainly an interesting one, and is probably one of Scarlett Johansson's best roles to date. It's just hard to compare to any other movie ... going way back the closest comparison I could make would be to the Roeg helmed, Bowie starring, The Man Who Fell to Earth back in the 1970s. It shares an odd, slightly surreal, vibe, and loosely deals with an alien interacting with humans.
Under the Skin is set in Glasgow (and comes complete with impenetrable local accents. They are technically speaking English, but it may as well be a foreign accent unless you have an ear for it) and finds the alien cruising the streets of the city looking for human males, and luring them to ... well .. something ... with the temptation of sex. It's oddly compelling and almost hypnotic.
There is also not a single second of exposition - you're totally on your own interpreting this one.
The central performance from Johansson is wonderfully nuanced, in particular in the closing act. I'm also not sure if I liked that closing act, but again, it was interesting. I am sure this movie will divide folk for a while, with some seeing it as an avant-garde gem amongst the more polished, yet hollow, modern sci-fi offerings, while others will undoubtedly see it as pretentious for pretensions sake.
Honestly, I'm not sure which camp I'll end up in, watch it and make your own mind up.
Next up is Terry Gilliam's Zero Theorem. I am a huge Gilliam fan and I genuinely wanted to adore this movie. It had another colorful Gilliam dystopia, it had a great cast, lead by the amazing Christoph Waltz, and looked to be heading towards the spaces where Gilliam has done his best work.
The finished film is visually stunning, creates a unique and typically Gilliam future imperfect, and does indeed get a good performance from Waltz, yet the central concept - that Waltz's tech savant is being driven crazy when tasked with solving the theorem that will prove (or disprove?) all of existence, by the dystopian 'Management', just never quite seems to be able to decide what it wants to be.
There are under-developed threads going in every direction. The conflict with his corporate, but surreal, overlords (brilliantly personified by cameos from Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton). A half explored potential love interest (and an accompanying look at the ideas of 'love' in a virtual space, and possibly even comment on forms of modern prostitution in a digital age), and an odd mentor / son / surrogate father relationship that is kind of explored with his assigned helper. In isolation any of them could have anchored the film on their, in trying to encompass all of them, the script jumps around too much to truly get its message across.
In many ways it's a bit of a mess, but for me it's also an interesting one. I can't help but feel there was a truly great movie hidden away in the material, but I do think what we got was worth watching anyway.
So there you have it. Two well made, interesting, and different, science fiction offerings that are certainly worth exploring if you have an open mind to slightly different experiences than those provided by your standard studio blockbusters.