27 March 2006

V for Vendetta

Sometime in the fictional future, the U.S. turns out be as big of jerk as everyone around the world is hoping it’d be, and ends up a pathetic wasteland. Apparently, as a result, the British let a despotic “high chancellor” take over the country and institute a national curfew, ubiquitous surveillance, and a really ominous red and black motif. Their only hope is a mysterious freedom fighter named “V” with an elaborate plan to expose the government’s treachery, galvanize the public, and blow up lots of stuff. Along the way, V unexpectedly meets (and tortures) the dysfunctional love of his life, and learns that there may be more to life than revolution and alliteration.

V for Vendetta is rumored to be the last film by the Wachowski brothers. I hate to say it, but maybe that’s a good idea. V for Vendetta had all the makings of a sure-fire hit: It’s based on a comic book, it stars a female lead who looks fabulous even as a baldie [Curse you, Portman!] and an enigmatic male lead who’s name no one knows, but who’s face & voice everyone will recognize; it’s “from the creators of The Matrix trilogy.” I’m sorry to report that the movie’s quite a disappointment.

The film’s anti-hero, V (Hugo Weaving) is likeably psychotic, but way to melodramatic for my taste. His creepy Guy Fawkes mask doesn’t help either. With a penchant for lengthy, alliterative soliloquies, foppish wigs, and random whimsical moods, V is like a mix between the Phantom of the Opera, Batman, and the Riddler – just way weirder. Natalie Portman is gorgeous, yet quirky as ever, as Evey, a tortured young woman who unwittingly becomes involved in V’s plans for revolution. I’m not trying to make myself the accent police, but once again, another distracting attempt at an accent mars an otherwise, decent performance. [Every time Portman spoke, I was reminded of Drew Barrymore in Ever After.] She is, however, pretty good at acting tortured. When Evey is forced to take a shower, shave her head, and eat nasty oatmeal, you’re actually convinced that such acts are quite torturous. In my opinion, the star of the show was the film’s everyman, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea). The audience can’t help but feel for Finch as he struggles to figure out WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON.

The film underlines several big themes. Frankly, they make them quite hard to miss.

#1 There is no such thing as a coincidence.

#2 Everyone is wearing a mask. It’s up to you to look beyond it… and ignore the disfigurement and lack of eyeballs.

#3 Symbols are bad (except for “V”, anything red, and Guy Fawkes masks); thus, we should blow up any building of significance.

#4 V for Vendetta is actually “Holocaust Redux.”

#5 Natalie Portman shaved her head for this movie, people. This is a very serious film.

#6 Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Okay, that’s not actually one of the themes, but it should be. V did some pretty awful things to Evey.

#7 Guy Fawkes was executed on November 5th.

I understand that the attention span of the average media consumer may be dwindling, but you don’t have to smack people over the head with the film’s themes. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it.

I appreciated the dramatic imagery: explosions, fireworks, the mob of revolutionaries in cloak and masks, the elaborate domino setup, the consistent use of black and red. etc, but it took forever for the film to get interesting. If you have a character as crazy as V is, it’s best to establish some back story early on that will enable the audience to tolerate all of his baffling antics.

There were moments of what I imagine was profound social commentary or notes on the state of humanity, but between Weaving’s mumbling and the wordy dialogue, gotta say that I missed it.

My recommendation: I know you won’t listen or it’s already too late, but a trip to the movie theater is unnecessary. Just wait until it hits video stores. It’ll be really easy to find. Just look under “V.”

20 March 2006

Reese Witherspoon: Double Feature

I. Just Like Heaven
II. Walk the Line

Just Like Heaven

Reese Witherspoon, I mean, Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, is smart, uptight, and hard-working, with a dash of vulnerability. Despite her dedication to her patients and the hospital, her colleagues, friends, and family continually clown on her for being a workaholic spinster with no social life. One fateful night, Elizabeth gets into a fatal car accident. Abruptly cut forward to an unspecified amount of time later, and we meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a non-threatening alcoholic, on the hunt for a furnished apartment. Fortunately for David, Elizabeth’s sister is quite morbid, and puts Elizabeth’s apartment up for rent, fully furnished – including her stained bed sheets and personal photos. David moves into the incredibly spacious San Francisco apartment only to find the demanding spirit of Elizabeth Masterson. Elizabeth has no idea who she is or what happened to her, and enlists the reluctant help of David to figure out her story. As is the way of chick flicks, David and Elizabeth find that the solutions to their respective problems are each other.

The film is predictable and at times, quite ridiculous, but now that I’ve had a few days to let it sink in, I think it was quite enjoyable. Firstly, how can you resist the charming Mark Ruffalo. Even if his character’s kind of an alcoholic, he’s still so likeable. Elizabeth Masterson is rather a challenge to like as she is bossy, self-centered, and really slow to realize that she’s a spirit, but if Mark Ruffalo likes her, then we like her. John Heder co-stars as psychic bookstore clerk, Darryl, or as I like to call him, “Napoleon Dynamite Moves to San Francisco.” Heder’s character is quite unnecessary except to draw in male audience members with the weak promise, “Dude, Napoleon Dynamite is in this movie.”

The best scenes in the film center on the relationship between Elizabeth & David. Witherspoon & Ruffalo build up some nice little tension before they quickly start falling in love. There’s also a strange, yet entertaining bit where Elizabeth teaches David how to perform a dangerous medical procedure on a dying man. In fact, that’s probably how I should describe the whole movie – strange, yet entertaining.

My recommendation: Mark Ruffalo.

Walk the Line

Feeling partly responsible for his older brother’s death as a young boy, Johnny Cash went through most of his life with some MAJOR issues. Walk the Line follows the rise of music legend Johnny Cash filled with all the requisite rock star clichés: rough childhood, lots of rejection, stifling first wife, drugs, meaningless sex, countless number of children, and a crush on Reese Witherspoon. The biopic quickly scans through Johnny’s professional career in order to focus on the tumultuous love affair between Johnny Cash and June Carter.

It’s really hard to make fun of Walk the Line because it’s a pretty awesome movie.

Joaquin Phoenix is definitely deserving of an Oscar nod. Phoenix was particularly effective in portraying Johnny’s harrowing addiction to prescription drugs. I don’t know if he subscribes to the school of method acting, but Phoenix looked like crap! Well done, Joaquin. Reese Witherspoon, to my chagrin, also proved to be a good actress. Generally, I think she gets by with her snappy personality and by wrinkling her little button nose, but she demonstrated subtlety in her portrayal of June Carter’s complex feelings towards Johnny Cash. My only problem with Witherspoon was her Southern accent. I know that Witherspoon is actually from the South, but her Southern twang was rather distracting, sort of equivalent to Halle Barry donning a mouth grill and dropping the last consonant of each word in B*A*P*S. Witherspoon just got a little too cartoonish when she went into angry Southern female mode. She may have been deserving of an Oscar nomination, but I still don’t understand how she was a sure-bet for the win. The film is very much a love letter to June Carter, so perhaps that confused Academy voters. June Carter was so cool (at least according to the film) that her coolness transferred onto Reese Witherspoon.

Much of the film is (fittingly) dedicated to the music of Johnny Cash & June Carter.
Both Witherspoon and Phoenix surprised me with their singing talents (even though I’ve seen the trailer a million times). Phoenix does a decent imitation of Cash. Witherspoon sounds nothing like June Carter, but after asking my sister to search for June Carter on itunes, I learned, that’s a good thing. I did not consider myself a Johnny Cash fan, but I am now a “Johnny Cash as portrayed by Joaqyin Phoenix” fan.

My recommendation: Despite all the hype, I recommend Walk the Line for the strong performances and the good music.