Over the last ten days or so I’ve been dealing with an illness that has taken both antibiotics and steroids to return me to a semblance of health, so during that time I watched a good bit of television (in-between chills, cold sweats, massive headaches, and numerous other symptoms too tedious to describe). In the interest of making my recent unpleasantness a learning experience, I will review what I watched as I lay shivering on the couch.
Travelling Salesman: At the risk of sounding pretentious and lah-di-dah, I will label this movie an “intellectual thriller.” Not that non-intellectual thrillers aren’t entertaining; I liked John Wick and The Accountant, for example. Anyway, what makes Travelling Salesman an intellectual thriller is how much of the film takes place in a single room, focused on a conversation. Sounds boring, right? It’s not. What they’re talking about is an amazing thing they’ve done under contract to the U.S. government: they’ve solved one of the most difficult problems mathematics has available, and now must deal with the repercussions. The mathematician characters all act according to type: the stuffy professor complete with sweater vest, the quirky weirdo, the brilliant slob, and the wunderkind star who did most of the work. Everyone perfectly cast, particularly the government functionary who comes to negotiate the remainder of their contract: a smooth-talking, blandly handsome man who’s obviously over his head yet still tries to hold his own in a room of literal geniuses. Aside from a few incomprehensible bits it’s a great film, one that I enjoyed immensely. 5 out of 5 stars.
The Zero Theorem: It’s a kind of spiritual successor to Terry Gilliam’s earlier film Brazil, though utterly lacking Brazil‘s heart. Sharing the same bizarre, surreal aesthetic, it attempts to handle heavy themes like faith, purpose in life, and existential crisis, but fails to elevate any of them. Christoph Waltz does a good enough job with what he’s been given, making him the only thing in the movie worth watching. Matt Damon, despite his camouflage suits, doesn’t add anything. Everyone else is forgettable, particularly the love interest. I wanted to like it because I loved Brazil, but couldn’t. 2 out of 5 stars.
Travelers: A Netflix series of twelve episodes, it has a familiar premise: people from a future dystopia mentally time-travel to the present day, take over the bodies of people who are about to die, and work like heck to prevent the horrible events of the future from occurring. Been there, done that, right? Yes, but somehow this works. Part of it is the casting: everyone’s very, very good, including Eric McCormack, who pulls off his role with just enough humor and weakness to make himself believable. The stand-out performance is Jared Abrahamson, a teenager taken over by a much older time-traveler who, to his great credit, doesn’t do a George Burns impression from the movie 18 Again!. Even though Travelers doesn’t reveal its secrets until rather late in the series, which gets frustrating, there’s still a lot to like. If we don’t know the stakes, we can’t be depended on to care about what happens; nevertheless, each episode still manages to make itself an entertaining experience. The crew makes the best of a relatively low budget through acting, writing, and heart. And yes, it obviously takes place in Vancouver. It’s okay. You get used to it. 4 out of 5 stars.
Did I spend my sick time wisely? I hope so.