52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

who cares what picture you see?

Having not been to the cinema for a good couple of months, and perhaps not since Christmas, another visit was long overdue. So I went twice. On Saturday night we went to see "Walk The Line" and this afternoon we went to see "V for Vendetta". More about Johnny Cash later, but let's deal with 'V' first....

Right. I'm not one of those über fans who has cherished the first edition releases from 1981 (I only read this for the first time last year), but let me say that if you haven't read the Alan Moore comic book that this film is based upon, I strongly urge you to do so. It's an utterly beguiling and powerful read and, as you might expect, contains layers of subtlety and depth that no film could possibly hope to cover. I'm guessing that the reviewer from The Times who gave the film a one star review and called it "V for Vacuous" hadn't read it:

"It's hardly surprising that Moore washed his hands of the film. His creepy freedom fighter, V, is a disfigured über-terrorist who blows up the Old Bailey one night with fireworks and announces on TV that he will do the same to the Houses of Parliament on November 5th. He delivers his threats in Shakespearean doggerel and spouts pseudo-waffle about the immortality of ideas...."

For someone who has read the book, that isn't so much criticism as an affirmation that the film has been faithful to the original. Of course, that doesn't invalidate the criticism. If reading the comic is a pre-requisite to enjoying the film, then the film will die on it's arse... and judging by the fact that it only came out on Friday and my multiplex only has it on a single screen and about three showings a day, that's exactly what will happen to it commercially.

I thought it was okay. There are inevitably one or two amendments to the plot, but nothing massive, and that in itself is something of a triumph. Lest we forget, this film is about someone whose ideology is fundamentally opposed to his government; someone who believes that violence is both necessary and justified; somone who is prepared to strap himself with explosives and hold a government to ransom; someone who blows up the Houses of Parliament and other landmarks in the London skyline. In many ways, I'm surprised that this film got made at all. We are about to surrender more of our civil liberties so that our government can better fight its "war on terrorism" - how comfortable do we feel watching a film where we are asked to take the side of the terrorist? Or is he a freedom fighter? Ah, it's all a question of perspective, isn't it?

The lovely Natalie Portman - especially for Lord B

About halfway though the film, I realised that I was actually really quite enjoying it. I'd heard that the effects were ropey, that Natalie Portman's accent was appalling, that the central premise of having a masked character as your lead simply didn't translate to the screen. Not true..... (Portman's English accent is certainly no worse than Stephen Rea's wandering Lancastrian burr). It was going really well, and then I felt that the film lost a little pace and it began to feel like it only had just the one point that it was emphasising again and again and again. All that 'people shouldn't be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people' stuff .... Very good, but in a film stretching over two hours long and with some of the subtletly of the original plot taken out, it began to feel a touch heavy-handed (to be fair, this is a criticism levelled by some at the original comics too).

It's far from a bad film though.... worth seeing, definitely, although possibly not worth repeat viewing.

I'd be really interested to hear what someone who hasn't read the comic thinks of it....

'Walk the Line' is a different kind of film altogether, but it is one that I could easily imagine myself watching again. Of course, both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were nominated for Oscars for their performances (Witherspoon winning, and Phoenix losing out ot Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and both are excellent. Both stars did all of their own singing; a big risk, but ultimately the fact that they are so good was probably the making of the film. I'm a big Cash fan, and it's a tribute to both stars that it's not until the final credits that I am anything less than convinced by their vocal performances: as the credits roll we hear the voices of the real Cash and Carter singing for the first time in the film. As soon as I heard it, I was struck by two thoughts: that Witherspoon's impersonation of June Carter had been uncanny, but also that Phoenix hadn't quite captured Johnny Cash. Of course, Cash had such a deep singing voice (daddy sang bass and all that...), that it would have been an almost impossible task, and it's credit to the quality of Phoenix's performance that a direct comparison with Cash didn't really occur to me until I was putting on my coat and heard the real McCoy.

Not that it matters all that much, but I'm also not sure how much Phoenix's performance was about Johnny Cash, and how much was about him making full use of those big, puppy-dog eyes. Those big close-ups of his face with his eyes brimming with tears and his face a picture of hurt and bewilderment.... seen it before. (and as a historian, I am honour-bound at this point to mention that this view of the Cash-Carter story naturally plays down the parts of other key players like Cash's wife and Carter's first two husbands.... hell, they're just collateral damage in the wake of one of the great love stories, aren't they?)

I'm quibbling though. It's an excellent film, and I really enjoyed it. It made me want to go home and put on some Cash records, and you can't say fairer than that. I hope it has that effect on everyone who sees the film.

So that was my weekend (oh, apart from going for a run, viewing a recently refurbished house, watching about six hours of rugby on the telly, watching the "Firefly" pilot....etc. etc.).

What did you get up to?


  • At 9:56 pm, Blogger Stef said…

    When I first read V in the mid 90s, things were looking good, we'd ditched Thatcherism and Labour looked like they might be changing things for the better.

    The Goverment in V is authoritarian, paranoid and draconian, it felt like a parallel world rather than a near-future. How naive I was... As you said, we're about to surrender more of our liberties to fight terror.

  • At 10:17 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    Jonathan Ross made the point in his review on Film 06 that this felt far more relevant in the 1980s when Britain had a Thatcher government and 1984 was just around the corner..... and that now it just felt dated and unlikely.

    Nonsense. It's about media manipulation. It's about governments who lie to their people and strip them of their rights and privileges. It could hardly be more relevant.... not to mention the added piquancy that the post 9/11 world gives to terrorists.


  • At 11:20 pm, Blogger Mark said…


    is a *ahem* interesting review

  • At 6:47 am, Blogger Stef said…

    Good grief, that is quite a review.

    I love the way that in the opening sentence he slams Brokeback mountain for being "bigoted" and "anti-Christian" WTF?!

    One thing that really worries me, especially in the States, is how the word 'liberal' is often used as an insult (as in 'bleeding heart liberal'); I was under the impression that freedom and equality were good things. Hell, it's even in their constitution. Did they not notice that the US constitution is both leftist and liberal?

  • At 6:54 am, Blogger Stef said…

    I've just read that review again after drinking a cup of coffee to wake my brain up.

    "If all homosexuals, and all homosexual activists, are such goody two shoes, how come so many of them resort to unsafe sexual practices that spread deadly diseases"
    Nice Christian attitude there, these people give religion a bad name. Aren't there laws about publishing that sort of hate-filled filth?

  • At 8:24 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    it's the way the reviewer instinctively sides with the fascist government that puts its 'deviant' citizens into concentration camps.


    t'internet is a remarkable place.


  • At 4:58 pm, Blogger -L said…

    ST, I thoroughly enjoyed "V" for quite a few reasons...mostly the relevance to today's terrorism-obsessed world as you mentioned. And I have always wondered (and I think the movie draws out this question) could we, would we stand up to tyranny? When would society realize that a line has been crossed?

    So much to ponder.

    Is it set in London in the comic book as well?

    Excellent reviews, ST. Well done, well done. *applauds*

  • At 5:16 pm, Blogger LB said…

    grrrrrrrrrr. *rubs trousers*

    (thats for Natalie Portman, btw, not Joaquin Phoenix).

    trivialise a serious debate? moi?

  • At 10:03 pm, Blogger Pynchon said…

    I'll be seeing it this Friday.

  • At 10:06 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    The film of V is a masterpiece and I'll fight anyone who disagrees.

    *swishes cape*

  • At 10:23 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    oh tell us more foxy! I want to know what you think. As soon as I read the comic I thought of you.... I want know what you thought of it.


  • At 10:40 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    I'm off to see "V" tonight at the local Imax cinema (local to my NYC-living friend, that is!). I've never read the book - so will report back about my thoughts in due course...

    I've also bought the Walk the Line DVD today. Quelle coincidence! (thank goodness for multi-region dvd players!)

  • At 10:46 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    Step into my parlour for more.

  • At 11:04 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    I've changed my mind: I want to watch "V" again as soon as possible. I've been thinking about it ever since I saw it on Sunday, and I want to give it a second viewing.

    If that's not a recommendation, then I don't know what is.

    When shall we go Lord B?


  • At 4:16 am, Blogger Sarah said…

    Ok, I'm no film critic - so this will be mercifully brief.

    As I said above, I've never read the comic book - though will do as soon as I get hold of a copy. I loved the film - despite the dodgy accents, which were easy to ignore when the story and its presentation was so powerful. I thought it was absolutely relevant to the way the world is today - particularly the way our government is creeping...

    It's interesting to hear about the half-hearted release at home, when I've been to see it in the biggest screen the local New York cinema could muster. And it works beautifully in the Imax. We tried to go and see it yesterday but all showings had sold out (by midday) - and the response to this evening's (also sold out) showing was very enthusiastic. I haven't heard an audience applaud a film in a long time (not that it's a practice I approve of - but it's a good gauge of feeling. Unless US audiences applaud as a matter of course?).

    (Lend me the book when I get home, eh ST?)

  • At 7:32 am, Blogger Stef said…

    Leah, yes the comic is set in London.

    I can't wait to go and see it now, I'm going on Thursday, so.... *Chomps at bit*

    Interestingly I was in an MOD building for work yesterday and in the training suite I went to there was a V for Vendetta calendar... This month's pic was V in front of a "Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith" poster.

    Odd and faintly disturbing. Especially as faith seems to be creeping back into politics here in the UK.

  • At 9:40 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    I saw "The Phantom Menance" in the USA, and I can assure you that audiences do not applaud as a matter of course.... unless of course "TPM" was a particularly awful film.


    (you can of course borrow my copy of "V" when you get home)


  • At 6:12 pm, Blogger Alecya G said…

    I've not read teh comic but we did go see "V"this weekend with some friends. I really liked it. I thought it was relevant, and beautiful, if a film can be called that. I dont have any objection to the film at all. I fully intend to buy it as soon as it is released on DVD and I definately want to see the comic now. I mean to go searching for it on my day off.

    I liked walk the line, I think I posted on it when I rented it. It was good. Nothing fantastic, but good. of the two, though, I would have rathered Pheonix see an award than Witherspoon. Then again, I think thats because I felt there were a lot more in her catagory that deserved it more. Ah, well.

  • At 8:59 pm, Blogger Crucifer said…

    Not much I can say here about V...

    ...except Amazon UK are selling it and Watchmen and other sundry graphic novels at a 40% discount - that's a tenner to me and you.


  • At 9:01 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…


    The official site is selling a pen that projects the V logo for a fiver. I'm having that.

    Fopp is also selling the book for a ten pound note, Brits.

  • At 9:38 pm, Blogger -L said…

    Ooooh, a V pen, you say, Fox?!

    Gosh, I fondly remember the days when my favorite fictional heroes were the Care Bears and Rainbow Brite...

    How times a-change. :)

  • At 11:05 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    Sorry for the uncharacteristically consumerist waffle. The pen PROJECTS the V logo IN RED LIGHT though!

    *has to go for a lie down*

  • At 12:35 am, Blogger Stef said…

    OMG, the pen projects a red V? WANT!

    It seems like everyone here likes the film but I posted my review about 10 minutes ago and the first comment I get is from some random saying "I suppose if you enjoy murder then you would like this movie" and other such gems...


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