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V for Vendetta (2006)

by Steve Habrat

Among the superhero movie elite is without question director James McTeigue’s politically charged 2006 film V for Vendetta, based off of Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name. Heavily critical of oppressive, war hungry governments who lie to their citizens and control through fear, it is very easy to read V for Vendetta as an attack on the ultra right wing extremists. Even if you do not quite agree with the politics of V for Vendetta, the film still has plenty to offer in the action and suspense department. Larry and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix boys) penned V for Vendetta, so you know you are in for one hell of a thrill ride when the bullets, knives, and fists start flying. Despite the heaping amount of praise I give this film, I do think it does have its fair share of flaws which cause it to stumble during its second act, especially when much of the focus is pulled off of the liberal-minded vigilante V, a monstrous experiment that backfires on all of those who were responsible. The story is so busy and tries to juggle so much at one time that you may find yourself hitting the rewind button out of confusion, at least on your first viewing. Things do clear themselves up a bit after revisiting the film a few times but certain points are still murky. Even so, you have to applaud the film’s reluctance to simplify itself, which is always invigorating in a superhero film.

The year is 2020 and much of the world is ravaged by civil war, disease, unrest, and chaos. Great Britain is under the control of a fascist Norsefire party, who act as a sort of Big Brother type. One evening, British Television Network employee Evey Hammon (Played by Natalie Portman) decides to make a trip to the home of her boss, Gordon Deitrich (Played by Stephen Fry), despite the government curfew that is firmly in place. The streets are partoled by “Fingerman,” a secret police force who takes orders from High Chancellor Adam Sutler (Played by John Hurt). Evey ends up bumping in to several “Fingerman,” who then attempt to rape and beat her but she is saved by a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask. This man, who calls himself V (Played by Hugo Weaving), proceeds to take Evey to a rooftop that overlooks the Old Bailey, which he then proceeds to destroy. The next days, the Norsefire party attempts to cover up this attack but V infiltrates the BTN and takes credit for the attack. He then encourages the citizens of Great Britain to rise up against this tolterian force that oppresses them and join him on November 5th, 2021, outside the Houses of Parliament and watch as he destroys it. Evey ends up bumping into V as he is fleeing the BTN and she narrowly saves his life, but it is all caught on camera. With no other alternative, V takes Evey to his underground hideout where she slowly begins to understand what V is trying to accomplish. She also learns about his horrific past inside a concentration camp called Larkhill, one set up by the Norsefire party. Meanwhile, lead inspector Eric Finch (Played by Stephen Rae) is hot on V trail but he ends up discovering more than he bargained for.

Certainly not the easiest film to briefly sum up due to the fact that there are tons of moving parts that allow the story to keep chugging along, V for Vendetta certainly is a rich and hearty thriller that more than satisfies. The first forty minutes of the film are absolutely glorious and flawless, with plenty of mind-bending action sequences and slow mounting suspense to keep you glued to your seat. The infiltration of the BTN by V seems like something Christopher Nolan would have concocted in one of his Batman films with closed-quarters action that would have been right at home in The Matrix. Then things switch from relentless action into more of a political thriller and character drama. The second half of the film is certainly interesting, especially when we get to hear about the origin of the Norsefire party and how V was molded into a Shakespeare-quoting gentleman who prefers to slay his victims with knives and ideas. It is here that the narrative tries to cram in too much and things begin to get tangled up in its own story. There are so many characters to try to keep track of that the exhaustion carved into lead inspector Finch’s face says it all. Yet when things finally do come together, or at least when we can finally put all the puzzle pieces in place, it does knock you off your feet. In a way, this is a positive because the more times you see V for Vendetta, the more that it chooses to reveal, making it one that you could happily add to your film collection.

Another unusual approach in V for Vendetta is never allowing the audience to get a glimpse of the V’s face. We learn that V was horribly disfigured in a fire and that he also can take quite a bit more punishment than the normal human being, a result of experiments that were conducted on him in Larkhill. V keeps his scarred face hidden behind a Guy Fawkes mask and allows his personality to come alive in eloquent and poetic dialogue that pours from the small slit in the mask’s mouth. He is mildly pretentious in the way he quotes Shakespeare, enjoys high art, and swoons over The Count of Monte Cristo, a film he can quote line by line. His underground lair is walled with books as thick as bricks, shrines to individuals who were deemed “unfit” by the Norsefire party (a lesbian woman who was in a cell next to V while he was in Larkhill), and accented with classical tunes that pour forth from his jukebox of 100 songs, none of which V has ever danced to. Weaving has his work cut out for him in selling V to the audience but he does it with human grace. I enjoy the fact that V is meant to represent all of us and I loved the fact that my imagination ran wild with what he looked like. We only ever get a glimpse of his hands, which are red, swollen, and peeling, grotesque but tragic, even more so when Evey sees them and V quickly covers them up so he doesn’t offend her.

Then we have Portman’s Evey, who has to speak in a faux British accent that does come off as fake from time to time but Portman’s character is caught in so much conflict that you barely notice. She is a powerhouse when she has her hair shaved off in one of the film’s more intense moments. She morphs from a conformed member of the Norsefire society into a cold, steely liberator with eyes that are made of fire, perhaps the same flames that baptized V. Her intimate moments with V, the ones where they speak of their pasts and V’s plot are touching, haunting, and hypnotic. Then we have Rae’s Finch, a loyal Norsefire party member who is beginning to question the party he has dedicated himself to. The more he uncovers, the more he begins to see that V is not the enemy. Another standout is John Hurt as Sutler, who is almost always seen on a giant screen that looms over the closest members of his cabinet. There is so much force in his voice when he snarls at those close to him that he needs to remind the people of Great Britain why they need him. Rounding all the main players is Fry is a closeted homosexual who fears his sexual orientation will have him jailed, but that is the least of his worries, and Tim Pigott-Smith as Peter Creedy, the scowling and slimy head of the “Fingerman.”

V for Vendetta has a shattering moment in the middle of the film when it flashes back to tell the story of Valerie (Played by Imogen Poots and Natasha Wightman), a lesbian who was disowned by her family and ultimately arrested by the government and thrown into Larkhill. The scene is fueled by so much raw emotion, anger, frustration, and ache that it still retains its punch every time you see the film. It is the highlight of the convoluted middle section of V for Vendetta, one that shows the true suffering at the hands of evil individuals who lack the right to judge their neighbor. It also acts as the push behind this liberal minded superhero outing. It is a call for tolerance and acceptance of all walks of life, something the far right refuses to do. Despite the longwinded politics of the middle portion of the film (trust me, it covers it all), the last act ties everything up in grand, fiery fashion, complete with a rousing fireworks display. The end battle scene between V and several members of the “Fingerman” is turned up eleven with slow motion spirals of V flying through the air and cutting down those who have caused him so much pain, V’s rage tied up with fluttering ribbons of blood cutting across the action. Yet it is the idea that together we can accomplish anything that will have you on your feet by the time the credits roll. It is the idea of universal freedom that allows V for Vendetta to stand as one of the true triumphs of the superhero genre.

Grade: A-

V for Vendetta is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Fright Night 3D (2011)

by Steve Habrat

To all the horror fans out there, you can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The remake of Fright Night restores honor to the vampire genre and shifts it from the teenybopper chick flicks back to a jugular ripping good time. Granted, some of the weightiness that is associated with the genre is stripped away but the film packs enough blood, guts, and thrills to make up for all three of the Twilight abominations (and that Priest movie). I’ll forgive you if you had some doubts about this film. The original 1985 Fright Night is not the most well known fright flick in the genre but it does have a minor level of notoriety. Made during the surge of special effects, the film is now showing its 80’s crow feet and the remake is well aware of it. The original Fright Night is steeped in 80s pop culture and it’s only fitting that the amped up remake is a product of these times. Yes, the protagonists listen to Kid Cudi and Foster the People, wear throwback high-tops and skinny jeans, Peter Vincent Vampire Hunter is a Vegas magician act that is eerily similar to Criss Angel, and Jerry, the famous vamp, looks like he stepped out of the latest Diesel Jeans ad. Perhaps the filmmakers want this film to act as a relic in twenty-five years just as the original does today.

This spunky, vamp-com ranks among the recent remake movement as one of the best that I have seen so far. It sits nicely with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, and last year’s The Crazies and Let Me In. It pays a nice tribute to the original film while also setting itself a part for these ADD-plagued audiences. Charlie Brewster (Played by baby faced Charlie Bartlett himself, Anton Yelchin) has it all: popular friends, a smoking hot girlfriend Amy (Played by the smoking hot Imogen Poots), and a warm, loving mother (Played by the underused Toni Collette). His popularity is increasing at his local high school and he is leaving his nerdy past, along with his nerdy best friend Ed (Played by McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) eating his cocky dust. After one of Charlie and Ed’s best friends disappears, the two take it upon themselves to play detective and investigate. They make a shocking discovery that Charlie’s charming new neighbor Jerry (Played by a never better Colin Farrell) is really a vampire who is chomping through their town’s citizens.

If you haven’t been floored by the recent parade of sappy vampire books, tacky television shows, and subpar movies (except that chilling Swedish film Let the Right One In and the American companion Let Me In), Fright Night may be a bit of a tough sell. Yet the film breathes new life into the genre that Stephanie Myer drove a stake through with her creation of Edward Cullen. Sure, there is a romance here that will quench the thirst of the squealing teenage girls that will certainly flock to see this (the whole film is loaded with current pop culture nods), but this is actually an adult vampire vehicle with an effectively calm Farrell behind the wheel. I personally don’t think he’s had more fun playing a role in his entire career. He struts into scene and utters a breathy “Hey guy” which reduces Charlie to jelly. You chuckle every time he pops in but your chuckles are quickly silenced by the unpredictability that radiates out of him. Romanticized vampire he ain’t, especially when he rips a gas line out of Charlie’s back yard and sends a flame through it to blow up his house. He doesn’t even break a sweat when he walks to up to the burning house and coolly tells Charlie “I don’t need to be invited in if there is no house.” Let me tell you folks, it doesn’t get any better than that in a vampire romp. I wanted to let out a cheer.

Fright Night is a relentless fun house that is marred by a weak introduction. I found the awkward, cliché heavy chitchat at the beginning rather indolent. What smoothes these few waves over is the presence of such dedicated actors, all who appear to be confidently invested in their characters. I rooted for Charlie and I found myself hypnotized by the nerdy Ed. Amy is a character that could have been reduced to gratuitous sex appeal but Poots plays her with some assured, playful depth. I certainly can’t write this review without mention of David Tennant’s flamboyant Peter Vincent. He vamps it up quite nicely himself and almost gives Farrell a run for his money. The film certainly packs the gore, which will please the fans hungry for some wildly imaginative vampire slayings. Plus, it’s all in eyeball aching 3D. This was another downfall of the movie—the 3D does strain your peepers and I had to lift up my glasses to let my eyes readjust before putting them back on.

Fright Night is not an exceptionally scary movie going experience. You will not be left cowering in terror or enduring many sleepless nights. You will, however, have a blast watching this candy colored rollercoaster ride. If you are a diehard fan of the original, you should be left satisfied. Farrell deserves some recognition for his dedication to Jerry. I honestly would happily see it again just for his performance alone. Fright Night is not a great film but just a really good, really fun monster movie. You’ll overlook its flaws, especially if you are over the age of twenty and Edward Cullen is not your idea of a compelling bloodsucker. This film deserves three cheers for its savage gut punch to those pretty boys. Grade: B+