Sunday, March 19, 2006

V for VERY SILLY but still some good whistles and bangs

Reactions to V for VENDETTA seem poles apart: in general, the respected critics hated it but movie-goers are loving it. I guess I fall somewhere between the two poles. My first reaction was huge disappointment. In an Orwellian future, the UK is controlled by a fascist government, headed up a Big Brother-like Chancellor played by the marvellous British actor John Hurt.* Hugo Weaving plays "V", a terrorist who blows up Government buildings. V saves a young girl called Evey, played by Natalie Portman, (the stripper in CLOSER and Queen Amidala in Star Wars I thru III) and she eventually joins his cause. So far, so fantastically interesting. You have to love any movie that sends up an authoritarian "Chancellor", and attacks a fascist government that infringes upon our civil liberties. I never thought that a Hollywood that cannot quite bring itself to give a gay movie the Best Picture Oscar would make a movie that portrays terrorists as heroes! I'm loving the controversy and the honest exploration of the duties that fall on a citizen in the face of a repressive society.

However, the depression kicks in when you realise that the convoluted plot has more holes in it than Rab C Nesbitt's string vest. In addition, the film is populated by a bunch of high-class British character actors. Now, this is, of course, a good thing for international audiences. But for us Brits it can jar when we are expected to accept establishment boffin Stephen Fry as an instrument of sedition. He hosts the BAFTAs!

Anyways, I watched this movie again yesterday with altered expectations and realised that I had been way too harsh. If you just want a large dollop of popcorn-style trashy entertainment, you could do worse than see V. It has all the requisite whistles and bangs, as you would expect from a movie written by the guys who gave us The Matrix and the directed by the First AD on The Matrix and Star Wars II. In addition, the whole thing is wonderfully camp, and teeters on the brink of BATMAN AND ROBIN kitsch-tastic status. I can't take it remotely seriously, but then I do not think I am meant to. (Unlike Syriana, which wanted to be taken seriously but was still hillariously twee in its rendering of the Middle-East conflict.)

V for VENDETTA was shown at Berlin 2005 and is now on release in the US, UK, Germany and Austria. It hits France on April 19th 2006. *Amusing that Winston Smith has been resurrected as Big Brother. Kind of like when the People's Republic of Sheffield's David Blunkett turned up twenty years later as the most repressive Home Secretary in post-war British history.


  1. I saw it Saturday night with a friend of mine. I thought it was good I guess. I had read alot about it before seeing it, so I was prepared for the controversy. I really don't think they hit anything that well though. I don't see many parallels between the society they show us as needing to be destroyed and anything like what we have now. Of course there are some similarities but they are so very slim that its silly to let the film be a commentary on anything. Its just fun. I guess I expected more from it on the controversy side, so as I was walking out of the theatre I was thinking "uh... ok... what am I supposed to think?". Then, I tossed out expectations I had about how I would feel and just revelled in the feeling that was genuine. That all too common feeling after a good action flick, that I wanted to go blow stuff up. So, I rate it pretty highly, especially if you go in with no prior thought about the movie or its plot. I do want to see the original comic books, though I bet I will be disappointed in those too heh.

  2. Hi Paul. I agree with what you say, although I guess I might see more similarities between the dystopian future and current UK society. After all, I live in a country which has seen more intrusions on civil liberties in the past three years than the US, and which has an Official Secrets Act that would be regarded as unconstitutional in the US. The original target of the graphic novel was the Thatcherite government of the 1980s. The graphic novel is great - a lot darker than the movie - but the novelist has disowned the movie. In fairness, he does that with every movie that is based on his novels, but still, it goes to show that we should view this film as trashy entertainment rather than political critique. And as you say, on that measure, it is pretty successful.

  3. Thanks for the review of V. I will still probably wait for it on DVD. I'm trying to save money and see only films I will not finish by saying, "and why did I pay for that?"

    You are right on the mark about the American homophobia and indirect glorification of suicide bombers. Americans are such hypocrites sometimes.

  4. p.s. Have you seen Jarhead? I've recently just seen it on DVD and was glad I didn't waste my time on it in the theater. Now THAT is a prime example of how senseless Americans can be.

  5. I think I'll give this one a miss -living through politics in the UK is enough for me at the moment - let alone seeing it as a comic book!
    Too many excellent filma out just now - spoilt for choice! Why does that happen? Reckon I'll be seeing Transamerica next - too many serious (or supposedly serious) films recently. Have you seen Tsotsi?

  6. @Chinadaahl. I did see Jarhead - there is a review on this sight if you flip thru reviews in alphabetical order. I thought it was pretty dumb but contained some awesome photography of burning oil fields etc. For that reason, maybe one to see on a big screen, but I can understand wanting to shell out 10 bucks only for really good films.

    @Steve. Yup - a lot of great films out now. This is because studios release all the Oscar contenders in the US in November so they are fresh in academy voters minds. They then hit the UK in Jan/Feb. Transamerica is a bit like Tsotsi - okay film, but really great central acting performance. I review Tsotsi on this page - basically I thought the story a little trite, but the acting outstanding. If you want cinematic excellence, you should try to hunt down HIDDEN/CACHE by Michael Haneke. Undoubtedly the best flick of 2005, but disqualified from the Oscars. (The French wouldn't nominate it because the director is Austrian,and the Austrians couldn't nominate it because it is in French.)

  7. I finally saw the film on Saturday night at the IMAX screen in Glasgow. The bit where Natalie Portman's character visits the Bishop, there was a big intake of breath from all the guys in the cinema.

    There's quite a few changes from the comic, but you'd expect that. There's less supporting characters and some of the details have been made more palatable. i.e Evey in the comic, is 16 and is arrested at the start of the film for trying to solicite men to desperately earn cash.

    It's not a bad film, and it's a shitload better than the other films that have been made from Alan Moore's book. Let's hope that if someone actually makes Watchmen, they don't balls it up but my hopes aren't high.

  8. @Ali D. There is an adaptation of Watchmen in the pipeline. Due out in 2008, apparently.

  9. It'd be interesting to see how they handle the ending. I can't imagine a scenario in which a major US city is devestated and the resulting carnage averts a war, would be an easy box office draw. But you never know.