Friday, March 31, 2006

16 Blocks - Movie Review

16 Blocks 2006

After our all too brief sojourn abroad, we felt it our duty to once again brave the withering banality of contemporary American films and venture forth to our local Cineplex to catch some of the flicks we had missed during our holiday. Turns out, we hadn’t missed much. Now, normally post-Oscar season, the major studios pretty much begin throwing out the celluloid garbage they had been sitting on all fall and winter long in the vain hopes of stealing a few dollars from the American public.

Congrats, you greedy bastards – you’ve really brought out the worst lately. After a cursory glance at the movie listings, we opted to go spend a couple of hours in the dark with our old pal, Bruce Willis. Yes, you heard that right. We have always considered Bruce to be a underrated actor who having taken the Harrison Ford career path to movie stardom via the regurgitation of police thrillers / action flicks / and the staple of the 90s lowest common denominator filmmaking – “the terrorist versus the rogue cop” flick. Well, his latest under the helm of Hollywood vet, Richard Donner may not be an arthouse flick but it does stack up surprisingly well compared with similar fodder.

16 Blocks” is yet another police action flick in which Bruce is forced to act his age and then some by portraying a down on his luck police detective, who is four bottles of rye past quitting time. He is rummy eyed, two day beard growthed and paunchy belly’d up to instantly bludgeon us over the head with characterization. We get it. He’s seen better days.

On the eve of an all night job where he is saddled with the very difficult police work of watching over two dead Puerto Rican drug dealers – (some guys have all the luck, frankly we didn’t view the opening scene as being such a visual indication of how low Bruce’s character has fallen – hell, we would have ordered pizza, turned on the boob tube and polished off the remnants of the Columbia’s finest left to float away on the kitchen table.) But we digress. As Bruce’s wearied and bloodshot eyed dick ambles back to the precinct, he finds himself saddled with the pedestrian job of shuttling a petty crook / informant to the court to testify prior to a 10am deadline. All told he has 118 minutes to drive the snitch 16 blocks.

And that’s it. That’s the story. In a nutshell. Of course life is not so simple for Bruce’s character, Jack Mosley. For you see, the informant portrayed by Mos Def as the chattiest informant in the history of movies, saddled with a nasally whine which would make Rosie Perez cringe is one much sought after stoolie. It seems every dirty cop behind the Blue Line is gunning for him, since he threatens to reveal some very nasty details of corruption amongst New York’s Finest. Corrupt cops! In New York City? Crazy Talk!

Before you can say “Die Hard IV”, Bruce and snitch are outrunning a plethora of sweaty filthy cops, and not a hot one in the bunch. Shame. Although, the film does benefit greatly by casting a very under sung actor, David Morse as the ne plus ultra in the much abused and overused “evil cop” vein. There really isn’t very much to surprise you in the plot or characterization departments, and really we’ve seen all this a million times over.

So why did we find ourselves enjoying this flick? Three reasons:

1. Bruce Willis. Who miraculously manages to find the best moments in a slightly battered and bruised and been there screenplay to flesh out a believable character. Seriously, the old geezer still has star quality to burn!

2. Richard Donner. The aforementioned veteran director whose prolific career beginning with television westerns in the late 50s, and who later soared thru the best comic-book-to-film adaptation ever – 1978s Superman”.

Sadly, Donner's career peaked early with two off kilter entries in his otherwise routine career.

The genre busting “Ladyhawke”- 1985 (a lovely-twisted-fantasy-swashbuckling-comedy-drama - although we could do without the 80s electronica / moog synthesizer score. Ugh.) and his quietest flick:

Inside Moves” from 1980, a solid and moving examination of the outcasts of modern society featuring a young David Morse. While some people may enjoy his extremely popular yet mind numbingly silly “Lethal Weapon” series, or have some sick fascination with the abysmal “The Goonies” – we will chalk it up to their childhood nostalgia. Trust us, “The Goonies” is an awful movie. Grow up, you slackers. It fairly shocked the hell out of us, that while "16 Blocks" may not be his best flick ever, it is by far the best Donner has pulled off in the past twenty years.

And finally, the third reason we enjoyed this film – 3. The Visual Storytelling. Chalk it up to Donner and his film editor, Steve Mirkovich who manage to bring it in at a well paced ninety nine minutes, and who blessedly demonstrate tact and discretion in explaining some slight twists and turns in purely visual terms. No heavy handed explanations for the peanut gallery. No time out for any “for those of you to stupid to get what just happened . . .” moments.

While this film is certainly not going to win any awards, well maybe a Golden Globe or People’s Choice – it never takes us for granted. Well, okay. Maybe once or twice. There was really no need for the whole “I dream of being a baker, someday” subplot. But, we’ll let it go by. And yes, Mos Def’s vocal pitch is three dog whines above most human beings tolerance level, but he is charismatic enough of an actor to pull it off in the end. So, if you’re really desperate for a moviegoing experience, and your boytoy is begging you to go see a Dick Flick, you could do far worse than “16 Blocks”. There. What a rave review, huh? Bless you all!

Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Richard Wenk

Bruce Willis as Jack Mosley
Mos Def as Eddie Bunker
David Morse as Frank Nugent
Jenna Stern as Diane
Cinematography by Glen MacPherson
Film Editing by Steve Mirkovich
Original Music by Klaus Badelt
Production Design by Arvinder Grewal
Art Direction by Brandt Gordon
Set Decoration by Steve Shewchuk
Costume Design by Vicki Graef

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Vive la France! - Our Cinematic Sojourn to the City of Light!


After the now legendary debacle of Oscar night where “Trash” stole the top prize from four much more deserving flicks, we were beset by a disgust and hatred for the film community at large that filled our lovely noggins with daydreams of systematically bludgeoning to death all 6,000 plus members of the Academy. We had to make an escape. So without a glance backwards, we packed our bags and hopped the next Concorde to our beloved Paris!

It served as the perfect tonic to help assuage our anger and lessen our disgust at the Academy’s worst Best Picture winner since “Gladiator”. Now, while there are so many things to enjoy when traipsing thru the cobblestoned streets of the City of Light, chief among them the stunning architecture, museums and legendary monuments – we were bowled over by the generosity and warmness of the French people. We have never understood where the trumped up charges of arrogance against the Gauls comes from - jealousy of a far superior culture, we suppose. (Honestly, Americans abroad are one step below Attila the Hun on the civility ladder. Don’t believe us? Tell it to the American cunts that we witnessed mauling artistic works of antiquity at Le Louvre – appalling in so many ways, but typical of a nation that reveres McDonald’s and American Idol.) Suffice to say, those narrow minded xenophobic twits couldn’t be more wrong.

For us, the real joy and piece of mind of our far too short sojourn in La Belle France was the passion the French have for le Cinema! Now, as many of you know we reside in what is clearly the cultural capital of the New World - New York City. And while we have always enjoyed the Big Apple’s revival houses, we are here to tell you that they are completely overshadowed by the myriad choices to be found in Paris. The French rightly consider Film to be as genuine an artistic endeavor as the plastic arts. The Seventh Art as it is known. And what a blissful experience it was to watch all these films in reverential awe, with nary a cell phone ringing or rude, insensitive American louts jibbering back at the screen. We were lucky enough to be able to visit a few temples of celluloid worship. Here is a brief highlight of our sojourn amongst the Gallic Silver Screen lovers of Paris.

During our brief visit, the various movie houses were obviously screening all the recent international mainstays from “L’Affaire de Josey Aimes” to “Le Secret de Brokeback Mountain”. And while we would have gladly hopped into any current release playhouse, we opted for their unparalleled selection of revival houses. The selections were dazzling to say the least. From tributes to such legendary stars as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe to auteur retrospectives of such greats as Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, David Lynch and Terrence Malick. To say nothing of the various repertory houses running such classic fare as “La nuit du chasseur”, “Le dernier tango à Paris”, “Moulin Rouge” (No, not the horrible Spaz Lurid version, the classic by John Huston), “La captive aux yeux clairs”, “La nuit de l’iguane” to camp classics like “Soleil Vert” and such lovely tributes to the delightful current “Paris au Cinema” photography exhibit on display at the Hôtel de Ville. We were in movie lover’s heaven.

La riviere sans retour
While the Marilyn tribute at L’action Écoles may have featured better films such as “Certain l’aiment chaud” and “Eve – we opted for this horse opera bauble from the lens of Otto Preminger featuring a blisteringly sexy Marilyn, a ruggedly smoldering Robert Mitchum and one of the better child performances by Tommy Rettig of TV’s “Lassie” fame. Thoroughly enjoyable, especially on the widescreen glory that perfectly framed the Cinemascope splendor of Marilyn’s greatest attributes.

Zowie! The bitch could really fill out a corset!

Complot de Famille
Le Hitchcock’s final film while far from being his best manages to hold up quite well since its debut thirty years ago. Featuring such 70s mainstays as Karen Black, Bruce Dern, William Devane and the criminally underrated Barbara Harris in a dark comedy of two small time scam artists who become embroiled in a kidnapping scheme by jewel thieves, the master once again demonstrates his sublime control over the medium.

All this in a theatre that featured an image of the patron saint of movie lovers, the late great, Henri Langlois looming over us cinephiles. (Not to fear, we later paid homage to his movie memorabilia inspired grave at the Cimetière du Montparnasse - see second pic from the top. Also laid to rest in Movie Heaven there, our idol Jacques Demy!)

La Dame au vendredi
The now legendary fastest talking screwball comedy masterpiece featuring pitch perfect star turns by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. The supporting cast is brilliant down to the smallest role, but the film belongs to the leads. Another masterpiece from one of our favorite directors of all time – the legendary Howard Hawks, and speaking of Howard . . .

No, ya mooks – not the overblown debacle featuring Al Pacino’s worst accent ever. This was the original brought forth from the master, Howard Hawks. We have the French to thank for so many things, and chief among them is their passionate love affair with some of America’s most neglected directors. While it is commonplace nowadays to applaud the careers of Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich and Anthony Mann – it was the brash and brave young writers and editors of the legendary Cahiers du Cinema that launched the career revivals of so many great auteurs.

Scarface”, seventy four years after it blazed its way onscreen in all its pre-Code glory, remains a blistering indictment of the life of organized crime. While it suffers slightly from the early talkie stiffness of its pacing, the central performance by Paul Muni and the supporting turns by Osgood Perkins (Yup, Tony’s papa.), Karen Morley and especially our beloved Ann Dvorak still shine with great skill and polish. And what an ending!

We opted to end our Parisian cinematic grand tour with this mid-century musical extravaganza that swept the Oscars in 1958 – nabbing nine statuettes out of nine nominations! It would set the record for the most Oscars won by any film, and then promptly watch that record get shattered by the following year’s “Ben-Hur” who galloped its way to a record setting eleven Oscar wins. (A record that has been tied by “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, but has yet to be broken.)

This scandalous tale of the education of a young girl into a high class slut, still holds up in part to it’s frothy score, real Parisian scenery (for the most part, but they did indeed film in Paris for the majority of the exteriors and the famous scenes at the reknowned Maxim’s.), fabulously gifted cast and especially to the incredibly discriminating eye of Cecil Beaton who designed the stunning costumes and decors. We whiled away our final night in Paris basking in the glory of director Vincent Minnelli’s delightful musical, when we almost had a stroke at the good fortune we had on attending that particular performance that very night.

For you see, after the film we were treated to a magical, enchanting and straight out of the movies in person chat with the star of “Gigi”Mademoiselle Leslie Caron herself! Running a few minutes late due to the parking (hmmmm, probably due to the rioting students, no doubt – those nutty Parisian students, such fans of the political riots!), she strolled in briskly (which at her crypt cracking age, is no small feat), gamely tossed her wrap and purse aside on the floor no less, and brought forth some wonderful behind the scenes tales of the magical MGM musical heyday. Tears still well up in our eyes when we think of it. What a perfect topper to our lovely trip to the gorgeous city we love so dearly!

It almost made us forget the nightmare of the Oscars. Almost. À bientôt! Bless you all!


Sunday, March 26, 2006

L'Enfant - Movie Review

L’Enfant 2005

Here is the perfect family film. If you want to abandon your children by the side of the road in exchange for a quick buck. And who hasn’t lived through that scenario? Belgium’s famed Dardenne brothers, excuse us, we meant frères are back with a vengeance in their Cannes Golden Palm winning success of 2005. This heartwarming, or rather bone chilling tale of two young vagabonds who are the less than proud parents of a newborn son, and soon find themselves embroiled in the father’s lovely scheme of selling their new child for desperately needed money. His rationale? They can always have more. Needless to say, or perhaps it should be stressed – the mother doesn’t quite see it the same way.

The father is played with a perfect eye on casting by Jérémie Renier in an astonishing performance as Bruno. A disheveled, off-puttingly attractive young man who makes his way by selling trash, begging for change and bizarre penny ante schemes with a pair of local teenage schoolboys who not only tolerate his ridiculous notions but encourage them for the thrill of the cheap crime. Watch Renier as he balances the characters fleeting moments of pride, profanity, cockiness and a sense of ownership over all that is not his. This terrific turn is not one of an actor showing off, rather an actor understanding the inner workings of a man so self absorbed that he cares little for the safety of his own child.

The young mother is portrayed by Déborah François as a crumpled together but surprisingly proud woman who is clearly in love with her hobo lifestyle and in particular the rarely seen charms of Bruno. Their lives together barely change once their son enters it. Leaving the hospital with barely a care in tow, the mother – Sonia is completely at ease having to sleep by the damp riverside as long as Bruno is with her. The child is obviously being cared for, but hardly the center of the conversation. This might not be the film for most young parents to go see. François is utterly believable as an easily taken-in young woman who discovers her own sense of worth - albeit a bit too late - by trusting the primal instincts of motherhood.

While the subject matter is less than alluring, the film is indeed a wonderfully effective examination into the lives of some desperate people, whose level of despair is hardly hinted at until the key moment. For Bruno in his shady dealings of selling anything he can grab his hands on casually mentions to one of his connections that he is the not-so-proud father of a new infant. The trash broker innocuously replies that babies can bring a lot of cash on the black market, and so Bruno not only absorbs the information but soon gives it the ole college dropout try and agrees to sell his son for some nice chunk of Euros. The only problem of course is that he fails to mention it to the mother of his child. Taking the opportunity while babysitting for the afternoon, he indeed swaps the kid for the money and attempts to casually inform Sonia of the transaction only once it has been completed.

Not only does Sonia not want any part of the ordeal, she kicks into fierce lioness mode and practically murders Bruno for the crime. Her overwhelming sense of anguish soon lands her in the nearest hospital in a near coma of grief. Bruno launches into a last minute frenzy to recover his child that escalates into a separate crime gone wrong that involves his younger accomplices and sends his already miserable life spiraling completely out of control.

Now, doesn’t that sound cheery? Well, no it isn’t. But what it is, is damn good filmmaking. The director brothers portray all the down low denizens as human beings and not mere characters. They may have incredible flaws as far as their sense of duty or morality, but these are not people who rest around contemplating their lives or the wonders of the universe. They exist by subsisting. There day to day is something most of us will never know or attempt to understand. By delving into the storyline without sentimentality or melodramatics, the directors understand that any life can be fascinating if it feels real enough to the viewer.

What makes this film more than tolerable, and even enjoyable insofar as the subject matter is shockingly abrasive is the directorial control. This is not a melodrama, nor is it some diatribe on the underprivileged. It is near impossible to feel pity for these characters, well perhaps for the enfant in question, but we remain absorbed by their story. This is truly the work of a fine pair of directors who understand pacing, storytelling and who hold their camera at a distance close enough to scrutinize the pitiable lot without indulging in grand theatrics.

While these may not be people you want to befriend, or even stop long enough to toss a coin to – they do exist. To some, the film might recall the great Agnes Varda’s “Vagabond” – an equally dark tale of the final days of a wandering homeless girl in rural France. Or even to an extant, the early neorealist masterpieces Shoeshine” or “The Bicycle Thief” – both by the master Vittorio de Sica. They too examined the world of the poor and bedraggled. “L’Enfant” may not have the poetry of de Sica or the visual élan of Varda – but it is equally poignant and powerful in its storytelling. So go hug your kids, before you completely decide to shill them out for a few shekels. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne

Jérémie Renier as Bruno
Déborah François as Sonia
Jérémie Segard as Steve
Mireille Bailly as Bruno’s Mother
Fabrizio Rongione as Young Thug
Olivier Gourmet as Plainclothes Officer

Cinematography by Alain Marcoen
Film Editing by Marie-Hélène Dozo
Production Design by Igor Gabriel
Costume Design by Monic Parelle

Friday, March 24, 2006

Inside Man - Movie Review

Inside Man 2006

The latest and possibly most commercial flick helmed to date by the talented Spike Lee features a trio of talented stars backed by equally distinguished character actors all bravely struggling to hold together an overblown television movie of the week bank heist scenario. We didn’t dislike “Inside Man”, but found it to be slightly bloated for so simple a plot and overlong by a good half hour. After having watched Bruce Willis shine in another police flick, “16 Blocks”, we were also sorely disappointed by the surprisingly lackluster lead turn by two time Oscar winner, Denzel Washington. Thankfully the film does have Spike at the lead, tossing out some very fine camerawork and setups and two very nice performances by our future husband Clive Owen and a magisterial supporting turn by two time Oscar winning Jodie Foster, who earns the online sobriquet hurled at her – she is truly a “magnificent cunt”.

The set-up is quite simple. A bank robbery in lower Manhattan is underway when Denzel Washington and the incredibly talented Chiwetel Ejiofor as two of New York’s finest detectives are called in for possible negotiations. Inside the bank, our future husband Clive Owen leads a tightly honed crew in alternately terrorizing the two dozen hostages and seemingly arranging to steal nothing. The president of the bank, portrayed with his usual gravitas by Christopher Plummer is alerted to the heist and begins to panic. Clearly something of great value is tucked away within its vault, and odds are good it isn’t just money. A quick call to a mysterious woman in cream and five inch heels, portrayed with aloof sliminess by Jodie Foster, threatens to aggrandize the flick into a political thriller. The bank president informs our mysterious "deep throat-ess" that yes indeed, there is a mysterious and priceless item locked away in one of the security deposit boxes and he desperately needs her help in ensuring its safety.

What follows is the slow, and we do mean slow unraveling of the heist. The film doesn’t crawl at a snail pace, Spike is too polished a pro to let that happen. But it does meander and slowly loses its way along its conventional bank heist genre groove. Several scenes serve only to underscore the wandering nature of the narrative. While we agree that today’s video games are mind numbingly violent, there was really no need for a fully animated sequence to hammer us over the head with. And while this film may be unique in mocking Albanians, we could have done without the five minute Albanian chain smoking whore in gold lame snippet.

Since the film is told thru a series of flashbacks, we know that all the major players will survive the finale – what is left is the how and why. And while the how is sometimes interesting, the why is nothing short of ignored. There is no particular reason for the subplot involving Christopher Plummer’s secret stash, except to help us speculate that he must have been around the age of twelve when it was first tucked away behind lock and key. Seriously people, World War II ended in 1945. Since a brief racial altercation between a Sikh bank employee and an anti-Arab cop help make it perfectly clear that the story is happening in the present – we simply don’t buy the alleged timeframe.

But this is a slight quibble when it comes to the overall success or failure of the film. It is made handsomely enough, with a real attempt at creative and visual storytelling. It just happens to rely on a weak script that could easily have been sharpened and shortened by a good forty pages. At a running time of two hours and ten minutes, we were beginning to feel we had been taken hostages ourselves. Although that might not have been a bad thing with Clive Owen pointing a large gun at us, forcing us to strip. Hmmmm. Excuse us. We got lost there for a minute. Where were we? Oh, yes.

Since the success of the film relies largely on the strengths of its lead players, Spike should be commended for his central casting. With the exception of Denzel Washington. While Denzel is certainly capable of good performances, and sometimes a great one or two – here he seems fairly catatonic, in lieu of appearing in control. It isn’t a horrible performance, merely a lazy one. Perhaps those untold millions he garners per picture lately have dulled his thespian skills. Or perhaps he needs to stop making police thriller after action flick after evil cop caper. (Best Actor Oscar or not, he should have won for “Malcolm X”.)

Thankfully we did enjoy the performances of Clive, Jodie, Chiwetel and the ever reliable Willem Dafoe who is wasted as a sometimes salty police captain straining to settle the nightmare for the hostages involved. And speaking of the hostages involved, this film is a veritable panorama of New York City caricatures. From the Jew who knows his jewels, to the Hispanic who of course has a previous police record - even the most peripheral characters seem destined for the cardboard cutout bin, Denzel's girlfriend and fellow police officer comes across as "Black Betty on a Hot Tin Roof". For a director known for tackling issues of racism, Spike does not seem above indulging in television clichés of stereotypes to flesh out an already weak scenario. Which is a real pity considering the talent involved.

And speaking of talent, this flick features a nice return to form by Jodie Foster as the mysterious Madeline White. Here is a seemingly all powerful creature that exists only in fiction, one of those well connected and mysterious individuals who creep around the political elite and who somehow always emerge victorious, over what we fail to understand. While there really is no rhyme or reason for her character to be involved in this story, she does exude the perfect blend of power, intelligence and hutzpah to pull off the role. Kudos to you, you old dyke! We almost forgive you for the horrid mess of “Airport ‘05”. (And nice calf muscles, bitch! You been hitting the stairmaster at Curves lately?)

While we would have appreciated the flick more if it had been tightened and honed as nicely as Jodie’s calves, we still enjoyed our time with the “Inside Man”. So what the hell, crack your wallets open and go. Bless you all!

Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Russell Gewirtz

Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier
Clive Owen as Dalton Russell
Jodie Foster as Madeline White
Christopher Plummer as Arthur Case
Willem Dafoe as Captain John Darius
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Detective Bill Mitchell
Peter Frechette as Peter Hammond

Film Editing by Barry Alexander Brown
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Costume Design by Donna Berwick
Original Music by Terence Blanchard
Production Design by Wynn Thomas
Art Direction by Chris Shriver
Set Decoration by George DeTitta Jr.

Friday, March 17, 2006

V for Vendetta - Movie Review

V for Vendetta

“Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
We know no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever by forgot”

In 1605, King James I of England’s Protestant court was almost decimated by a wily team of Catholic rebels’ intent on bringing down the monarchy and reestablishing Catholicism as the religion of the realm. They failed. Miserably. And for centuries since, British schoolboys can be found chanting the above refrain in celebration of “Guy Fawkes Night”, when they’re not busy drinking tea or sodomizing each other. And what has this to do with our current film under the knife at The Bloody Red Carpet? Patience children and you shall see.

The latest effects laden opus brought to us courtesy of the Mutt & Jeff of moviedom, The Wachowski Brothers is another in the lengthy line of film adaptations of graphic novels. It features Natalie Portman as an idealistic young television journalist / errand girl who stumbles across a masked terrorist in the dark streets of London who saves her from a grisly rape and possible murder by the local constabulary. How shocking! Policemen don’t rape innocent women! Ah, but we neglected to mention that this is London of the future, a generation hence where the political climate is decidedly totalitarian, and the populace a beleaguered downtrodden lot who have come to accept the strict regime imposed on them without question.

In the film’s fascist future, the United States of America is officially dead to the world, its people busy fighting a grisly Civil War. The free world has been decimated by a worldwide struggle against terrorism. A conservative government faction rose to the attention during the melee and took over - leveraging the fear that simple folk had against terrorism. They invaded countries without provocation, they exaggerated about the threats to national security, they targeted homosexual behavior as the poison dwelling within their society’s fertile breast and they bought shoes at Ferragamo’s when natural disasters struck their major port cities. Oh, wait. Now we’re getting confused. This is fiction! Graphic Fiction or rather Graphic Novels – to be precise. You know. Pow! Wham! Zap! And all that jizz.

While we have been enraptured in the past with some very fine adaptations based on graphic novels / comic books: “Superman”, “Ghost World”, “The Road to Perdition”, “From Hell”, “Batman Begins”, “A History of Violence” all come to mind. This current endeavor firmly belongs in the pulp fiction death camp alongside “The Fantastic Four”, “Batman & Robin”, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” and “The Punisher”.

The plot is fairly straightforward and fairly derivative of far better “What If?” scenarios about a possible totalitarian. Not only do “Fahrenheit 451”, “Brave New World” and “1984” come to mind as the literary antecedents, there also exist very fine film versions of the Bradbury and Orwell tales and a plethora of superior films in the same genre. From “Brazil” to “Gattaca” to “Minority Report”. You would do well to go rent one of the above rather than waste your time and money on “V for Vendetta”.

As with many dark future scenarios – the repressive government is under attack by an underground freedom force movement intent on toppling the fascist regime. In a nod to British history (here is where our brief history lesson above comes into play.), the mysterious robe clad figure intent on restoring free thought is disguised in a Guy Fawkes mask and has apparently trained with Keanu Reeves and Jet Li to learn his fighting prowess.

While we never get a glimpse behind the mask, the vocal performance by Hugo Weaving may be the best thing in the whole movie. He finds the right balance of vigilante hero, ominous threat, freedom fighter and lover of the fine arts. And his underground lair is to die for! Seems that our mystery man is a connoisseur of the masters, being the proud possessor of such masterpieces as the Arnolfini Wedding! And he makes a mean fried egg breakfast sandwich. (Seriously, after the flick we ran home and made our own! Delish.)

While Hugo’s wonderful vocal turn works beautifully, Natalie Portman suffers from a slight case of miscasting. Natalie Portman has been growing up before our very cinematic eyes to become a quite lovely young woman who is certainly capable of delivering a solid performance, culminating in her Oscar nominated turn in Mike Nichols adaptation of “Closer”. Here, the poor bint is saddled with a pseudo-Posh British accent that makes her seem like the missing Spice GirlPretentious Spice. It isn’t a case of a bad performance, just a weak one. Her performance is ultimately as devoid of passion as the film. But one can hardly blame her, when she has such trite material and lackluster direction to deal with.

The supporting cast thankfully is composed of several extremely talented actors from the British Isles. Stephen Rea, the partner in crime to many a fine Neil Jordan flick co-stars as the lead detective in charge of apprehending our mystery “Guy”.

His partner is our long ago dreamboat, Rupert Graves who still looks yummy decades after his gay-for-pay turn in the very fine “Maurice”. (Yes, there were gay characters in well made dramas before our beloved cowpokes rode onto the cinematic range.)

The role of a popular television personality struggling to keep his sexuality a secret under the homophobic government is parlayed by that witty and talented Stephen Fry. And once we saw that Mrs. Jeremy Irons herself, Sinéad Cusack was undertaking the role of a government certified doctor, who harbors a few secrets of her own – we knew that the people in charge were at least capable of good casting.

And perhaps a knowing wink or two. For the role of the Nazi-like regime’s dictator is essayed by John Hurt, who twenty years ago portrayed the fabled Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s very fine version of “1984”.

Unfortunately for the film and for us, the powers that be were not capable of finding a director of any worth. We had no bloody clue who James McTeigue was. After a brief search – we realized why. He is not a director. Now, while many good auteurs started their careers as gophers and or key grips, we are willing to bet the farm on Mr. McTeigue not being one of them. From the mundane framing to the complete absence of pacing to the actual visual feel of the film – he continuously falls short. This is at heart a fantasy film based on a graphic novel that utterly fails to find any visual inspiration. There is not a single moment or frame onscreen that is memorable. While not every director can be as visually stunning as Terrence Malick or half has talented in the fantasy medium as a certain Mr. Spielberg or Mr. Jackson – they can at least attempt to tell a story cinematically without boring us to tears. (Oh! Before we forget, if you live in the New York State area, drop what you’re doing and hightail it over to Film Forum to catch their latest revival of the masterly “Days of Heaven” in a dazzling new print!)
V for Vendetta” is the kind of flick that has its heart in the right place, and its head up it own arse. While who amongst us wouldn’t support the right to freely express our opinion, and who doesn’t cheer for the underdog vigilante hero? But by the time this tired fantasy thriller had wound up to its listlessly predictable explosive ending, we were cheering for the bomb. We only wish they had spared the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and bombed the screenwriter / producers and director’s houses instead.

It is truly a shame that the most visual and exciting elements of the film are to be found on the various poster designs, taking their inspiration from the famed Soviet propaganda posters of yore. Save your time and energy and go read the comic book instead. Bless you all!

Directed by James McTeigue
Written by Andy & Larry Wachowski
Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

Natalie Portman as Evey
Hugo Weaving as V
Stephen Rea as Finch
Rupert Graves as Dominic
Stephen Fry as Deitrich
John Hurt as Adam Sutler
Sinéad Cusack as Delia Surridge
Tim Pigott-Smith as Creedy

Film Editing by Martin Walsh
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Costume Design by Sammy Sheldon
Production Design by Owen Paterson
Art Direction by Marco Bittner Rosser, Sarah Horton & Sebastian T. Krawinkel
Set Decoration by Peter Walpole
Original Music by Dario Marianelli