Thursday, March 30, 2006

V For Vendetta

It seems anything remotely resembling a political or social statement is filtered through a post-9/11 world we all live in. Often times whatever is being discussed has nothing to do with 9/11 or the turmoil that has erupted around the world in its aftermath. Enter V For Vendetta, the first large, blockbuster to address a variety of touchy subjects that you’d think the “9/11” mindset would frown upon.

Long delayed due to the London subway bombings, V For Vendetta is a film rife with built in controversy and one that has had people eagerly waiting for it to hit theatres. It’s now in multiplexes across America but are we ready to see a film where the hero is a terrorist? I hope so, no matter if the film is good or not, just for the simple fact we can step out of 9/11’s shadow nearly five years after the 2001 attacks.

Produced and written by the Wachowski Brothers—The Matrix—and directed by a protégé, James McTeigue, V For Vendetta has some important and thrilling things to say but I left the theatre wishing it had been subtler in its message. V For Vendetta is so eager to hammer home its points that at times it gets lost in its concentrated effort to do so. Subtle it is not.

The year is sometime around 2027 and the setting is London. The United States is embroiled in its second Civil War and chaos rules around the globe because of it. England is ruled by an ultra right wing totalitarian state that has crushed the people’s freedoms in the guise of their own protection.

The streets have posters of propaganda with expressions such as “Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith” and “A Curfew Is For Your Protection.” Government police use listening devices to eavesdrop on what citizens say in the privacy of their own houses.

Natalie Portman plays Evey, a young woman who is out after curfew and who is accosted by police thugs when a mysterious masked man arrives to fight off her attackers. Evey’s life is changed forever as this masked man—V—opens up her world to his revolutionary causes.

V, played by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix), takes his message to the people by blowing up governmental buildings, going on extremely erudite rants drowning in alliteration about how things ought to be. V wears a Guy Fawkes (17th century British revolutionary involved in the failed Gunpowder Plot) mask the entire film—which is kind of distracting at times to be perfectly honest—and has assembled a chamber of forbidden items called the “Shadow Gallery.” The government, like all totalitarian regimes, is frightened of anything that fits against their tightly controlled world.

The look of the film is full of great retro-future design (it is based on a graphic novel after all), lots of reds and blacks and is obviously in the future but not so different that it renders the setting unbelievable. Like The Matrix, V For Vendetta wants to be a big action film but about ideas rather than action itself. The action that does occur feels almost out of place to me.

It’s all very reminiscent of “Big Brother” and George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare in his novel 1984 (one of my favorite novels). V For Vendetta is then run through the prism of current events with issues such as war, the erosion of civil liberties worldwide, media manipulation of the truth, and the fact that those who lead us around the globe are very corruptible and are more similar than different, no matter their political persuasion.

V For Vendetta has a scary premise whose believability might be tied to where each person watching it exists on the political spectrum. It’s a cautionary tale in the tradition of 1984 or Brave New World that raises warnings regarding how the freedoms we’ve enjoyed should never be endangered because we might be frightened of something happening or because our government says to think this way or that way.

As the credits rolled and I walked out into the rainy Oklahoma night, I found myself thinking about ideas such as how we’ve lost some of our revolutionary spark that our nation was founded on. If that is what the makers of V For Vendetta wanted to accomplish, then they were successful.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Punching Matthew McConaughey in the face

Sometimes I dream about an actor/actress I like, sometimes I dream about one I can't stand. A few nights ago I dreamt of one of my least liked--Matthew McConaughey. Believe me, had I been controlling the dream I'd have put someone other than him in it. There's a lot to dislike about the guy--he can't act, he's had a hair transplant or on Rogaine or something to reverse his receding hairline, he's always flashing the damned hook 'em horns sign (I'm from Oklahoma, born and bred, went to Univ. of Oklahoma, so, you might as well be peeing on my leg with that stupid horn sign).

So, you can imagine my subconscious horror when I found McConaughey in my dream, right up in my face flashing me that damned hook 'em horns sign! The good part is it was a dream and I cold-cocked the guy and sent him down to the ground. What fun it was too let me tell you as what could have been a horrible dream turned into something special I'll have forever: getting to punch Matthew McConaughey right in the face.

We should all be as lucky getting to knockout someone we loathe in dreamland. Makes me think of a good question for anyone reading this: who would you like to punch out in a dream from the film world? Come on, let your inner urges out in the comment box.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nine Songs

I’ve seen a lot of strange, weird, kinky and pushing the envelope films over the years. I try to seek out the new stuff just to see new cinematic boundaries destroyed and created. Very early in director Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs I realized I was watching the dirtiest, most graphic sex scenes I’d ever seen in a mainstream film. Honestly, I often couldn’t believe what I was seeing take place.

Some might label 9 Songs pornography and I really couldn’t argue with them—it’s that graphic. Winterbottom is a serious English director who has made films such as Welcome to Sarajevo, The Claim, 24 Hour Party People and Code 46 (which I reviewed on CineRobot a few months ago). I gave 9 Songs a chance because of his filmography and I wanted to see if it was as graphic and naughty as I’d read it was. Believe me, it is.

There are really only two things that happen in 9 Songs. The first is showing this couple in their 20s going to see good bands at London’s Brixton Academy (Super Furry Animals, Elbow etc) and the second is showing the same couple having lots of sex, lots and lots of graphic sex with a capital X.

I kept thinking as I watched some of the sex scenes—are these “real” actors? If these were porn actors no biggie as they’ll do just about anything on a camera but “real” actors doing this kind of stuff is hard to believe. Question #2—how in the hell did Winterbottom get these two people to do this stuff on film? I guess these days you’ll find people who’ll do anything thinking it will either launch their careers or that they are making “art.”

9 Songs is a terrible movie. Its whole angle is the REAL sex as there are no characters, there’s a bunch of laughable dialogue between the leads, there’s little chemistry between them even though they are naked all the time and there’s a silly Antarctica element to the story. Good bands though (SFA!) but at even 67 minutes long it feels bloated and too long.

I hardly think of myself as a prude or someone who is easily offended but I don’t see the point. If I want to see people having real sex I’d rent a porno or something. 9 Songs just seems really pretentious, hollow and screams “Look at me!” over and over with its sex scenes when it has nothing else going for it.

But 9 Songs is the new title-holder of the dirtiest mainstream film I’ve ever seen. I guess that’s something, not sure what, but it’s something.

Monday, March 13, 2006


WarGames (1983) was a favorite of mine in my early teens when I first saw it. Recently I re-watched it and found it still an enjoyable nuclear, techno thriller that captures some of the 1980s nuclear war paranoia that the Cold War was still creating.

WarGames was one of the first films to introduce the computer, or technology, as one of the main stars or aspects of the story. Watching the film in 2006 makes the technology extremely primitive but that’s part of the charm of the film. The raw, low-tech computers almost “time capsule” the film in the era of the early ‘80s and I kind of like that. Plus, I could listen to the computer speak in its “robot” voice all movie long.

Matthew Broderick plays a high school computer geek, who spends his time hacking, playing video games (there’s some great Galaga action in the movie!), doing poorly at school and romancing a classmate (Ally Sheedy) by going into the school’s system and changing her grade.

When I saw this in 1983 I thought nothing could be cooler than hacking into the school’s computer and altering my grade. Unfortunately, I’d never even touched a computer and doubt the school in my small Oklahoma hometown even had one. So, the whole concept of the film was fantastical and futuristic to me—no matter how “old” the computers look 23 years later.

Broderick gets into trouble when he hacks a government program known as “Joshua” that imitates very realistic war simulations that fool military officials into thinking the U.S.S.R. is launching nukes at us! Broderick is arrested and then goes on an adventure trying to stave off nuclear war by understanding “Joshua.”

WarGames has a sweet, pro-geek story that is surprisingly to the point. The hero is a computer geek (before the term was mainstreamed and connected to technology lovin’ folks) obsessed with video games yet who can also save the world. He even gets to romance the All-American beauty Sheedy (who I had a massive crush on as a teenager). WarGames never portrays Broderick as a geek but as a “can do” teenager and that’s one reason the film holds up well through the years.

WarGames is a gem from director John Badham that deserves to be seen again as it is one of the smarter teen orientated films from the era.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The solitude of movie watching

Thanks to GrgY who did some fancy bar & pie that show just how many movies I see alone over the years since I've been tracking the "stats" in Kinetoscope--my old school film zine I used to do, starting in 1998.

Graph #1: a year by year breakdown starting in '98 of how many films I saw each year with an escort v. completely alone. I didn't realize until I saw GrgY's graph how many films I saw last year by myself. Kind of sad really.

Graph #2
: a raw total of all films I've seen from 1998-2005 done in a nice simple pie.

I guess it's obvious from these graphs that I need to make some movie loving friends that can keep me company during my film watching--at least to cut down the number to 50%. That might be a pipe dream though as in 2006 I've seen 40 films, 7 with other people. That's the beginnings of another sad and ugly graph I'm afraid.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Watching the oscars

It’s that time of the year again. This is the weekend I feel both pleasure and disgust (often in the breadth of a few seconds) while gorging myself on the Hollywood slap-ourselves-on-the-back experience that is Oscar. Each year I tell myself, “I don’t care.” Yet, I find myself every Sunday afternoon being drawn in and watching the train wreck festivities like I have cash money riding on the outcome of best costume design. Go Gabriella Pescucci! It’s a sickness I have. The disease is known as “Filmgeekicitus” and there is no cure.

Like any true Hollywood film fan I am drawn into the glamour of the Oscars. This often means starting early with the red carpet love-a-thon. The red carpet is for the beautiful people, the stars and starlets—who may or may not be nominated—to be swathed in haute couture dresses and millions of dollars of jewels and make inane conversation with annoying “journalists.”

I enjoy mocking the celebrities and seeing who will embarrass themselves as much as I enjoy watching who wins or loses an award. This is the appeal of the red carpet festivities—maximum mocking opportunities regarding who says what while wearing what. The whole mocking experience is key to me all night long as it’s always fun to make fun of the winners when they cry and ramble on and make political statements and generally act as if they are the most important person on earth. In their ego-starved view of the world—they ARE the most important person—and therefore deserve every barb that comes their way.

It’s precisely at this point that I will have my first blow up of the evening as I go on my annual rant regarding a particular famous female comedian (Joan Rivers) and her daughter (Melissa) who are red carpet staples. This diatribe usually involves the alien life form that mom is “evolving” into thanks to various knife-work and the fact that her daughter is a no talent hack who can thank the Hollywood god of Nepotism or she’d be living in Bakersfield married to a truck driver and dreaming of all the plastic surgery she could do.

A new favorite of the red carpet interview has to be Isaac Mizrahi. This guy will ask these stars all kinds of crazy questions that a straight guy couldn't get away with in a thousand years. At the Golden Globes I saw him quasi-fondle Scarlett Johansson's breasts the lucky devil. At the Grammy's he actually asked one woman if she was "shaved." So, I'll be tuning in to ol' naughty Isaac to see what he asks next and the celebrities who have said they are upset by this should just shut it and go let that hack Melissa ask some boring questions.

Part of my enjoyment of the Oscars depends on the host. This year’s host, Jon Stewart, gives me a lot of hope. I am a fan of Stewart’s scathing rabble-rousing political comedy and hope he gets to unleash some of that during the telecast. But I don’t think that will happen as Chris Rock was the host in 2005 and he was almost sanitized of that certain “Rock”ness. Compared to safe, boring and unfunny hosts such as Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal—Stewart as host will either be genius or a one time event ala David Letterman and his still silly “Uma/Oprah” bit.

So, after Stewart’s opening monologue we’ll get a few early awards for supporting actor and actress and then two hours of fluff before the big awards come out in the last hour. Although, one of my favorite parts of the telecast—the lengthy tribute to those who died during the year occurs before the big awards and I never try to miss that.

There will be movies/actors I root for (Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Capote) and movies/actors I will root against (Munich, Walk the Line and Steven Spielberg). I will go on at least 10 rants about which actor got an award they shouldn’t have, how long this is taking, so and so looks awesome/awful and the like.

Watching the telecast with others who share a love of ridicule can make the event faster and more enjoyable. Plus, it’s kind of sad to sit alone and complain to the television about the ridiculous amount of awards given to this or that film like Return of the King a few years back (I plead the fifth regarding this).

The whole thing will fill me with kind of a shame (also known as guilty pleasure) and I will swear that next year I am not watching such a useless, absurd event. But, my case of “Filmgeekicitus” will take hold. I will see the red carpet, the sashaying starlets and the famous mother/daughter tandem that I loathe and I won’t be able to control myself.