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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog

(OR EL DUDERINO IF YOU'RE NOT INTO THE WHOLE BREVITY THING)

-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Movie Review: V for Vendetta

It seems I'm doing a lot of reviews lately. A couple of screenplays last week, and now a movie. Well, I guess they can be as instructive as craft articles, no? Or at least somewhat instructive!

So V for Vendetta opened this weekend. I wasn't super interested in seeing it, but then I heard some relatively good reviews, and decided to go when a friend asked me to join him.

To quote a recent book's title, I liked it, didn't love it. I mean, sure it looked cool. Nice and artful selective use of the CGI effects -- not flashy, as in The Matrix, and generally supportive of story and design. But the story kept holding me at arm's length. After I got home, I read some more of the reviews, and I was struck by something interesting.

Both the more positive reviews and those that were somewhat more negative picked up on the same aspects of the film, and they were the same things that I noticed. Though generally an action movie, V for Vendetta is more ambitious than the typical. Unfortunately, I think they failed somewhat in meeting the goals they were shooting for.

Clearly, the Wachowskis (who wrote and produced V, adapted from Alan Moore's graphic novel) were attempting to recast the story as a critique of our current societal situation. The problem, as I see it, is that their message was muddled on the one hand, and somewhat trite or overstated during its moments of clarity. The positive reviews I read after I saw the film mentioned that the film deserves credit for being more ambitious than the typical actioner, and the negative ones criticized it for being unclear in its message(s). So I guess the bottom line is, how willing are you to put up with that sort of situation?

On more than one occasion during the film, V makes a statement or speech that is clearly meant to be substantive on a thematic level, and Natalie Portman's character responds with, "I understand," or something of that nature. All I could find myself thinking was, "You do?!" Maybe I'm just stupid, or too literal a viewer. Maybe I'm just a lazy American who wants everything spoonfed to him. I don't think so, but I'll accept that critique, if some of you think the Wachowskis' statement was clear and well-stated. Call me dumb. I don't mind, and won't take it personally. But I won't agree, and will stand by my claims.

What I'm getting at is that I'm pretty sure I'd understand the film more, were I to rewatch it. But it wasn't entertaining, interesting, or exciting enough to make have much desire to give it that second viewing. Maybe I'll revisit it on DVD or cable, but I'm certainly not interested in seeing it on the big screen again.

Okay, I see they're saying American policy, particularly in its foreign wars, is wrong and/or dangerous. Not a very bold or new statement, whether or not you agree. If they are warning of the outcomes of an encroachment on personal liberties in defense against terrorism, I find their statement somewhat valid, but highly overstated. To say that we are veering towards fascism, I find the claim outrageous.

More importantly, I find the defense of terrorism in any form a dangerous one to make. Yes, I've heard the claim that "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter." While this may be a valid point, I still find it a very dangerous one to make. Because many so-called freedom fighters are indeed terrorists who deserve no sympathy. Every terrorist thinks their points are valid. Does that make their actions valid and defensible?

Of course this raises the question of whose causes are defensible, and who is to be the final arbiter? There is, of course, no way to accurately answer this question. There is no absolute right or wrong answer. But I do believe it is a valid claim to make that many (and probably most, if not all) acts of terror are invalid. Thus, a defense thereof is a dangerous statement to make, in my mind.

Still, the more important critique of this film, as I see it, is that whether one agrees with the filmmakers' message(s), such messages are only hazily stated, and feel somewhat extraneous or overstated at times in V for Vendetta. Ambitious? Yes. Successful? Much less so. In my not so humble opinion.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Eddie said...

I was bored by V. Found it predictable. Despite great potential, I failed to care about the characters - good or bad. Make me care or wonder, then make me root for them or worry about them.

A couple of the set-ups and pay-offs were in back to back scenes, which I found annoying. I guess there was just too much to fit in.

As for delivering a message, maybe the producers underestimate folks a bit in trying to teach a lesson most already know. I don't mind a message, but I paid to see a movie.

And I couldn't adjust to the dialogue of V, it just bothered me not seeing lips move with the dialogue.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

come over and vote: should I post photos of my wifes breasts?

12:43 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Well, folks. I'm not really sure what to make of that last comment. Not spam, per se. Just odd! I'll leave it "for your consideration," and let you add to his comments, if you like.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous emily blake said...

I'm gonna ignore the breast thing.

I saw V Saturday at the Grove and I felt the same way I did about the second Matrix movie - like a piece was missing. I needed a magical scene that made everything a little less vague.

The most entertaining part of the film came when the sound cut off halfway through the film and continued to run for a good fifteen minutes, some of the time with ads running over the screen. That prompted a mutiny form the audience until they restarted the movie. Then they backed it up to fifteen minutes before the sound error occured, prompting various murmurs and one guy to yell "This was like an hour ago!" but eventually calming everybody down. We all got free passes at the end.

Americans. We're so demanding.

6:21 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Emily -- That's crazy! My Saturday night showing at Century City also had a problem in the middle. Right after the whole sequence with Natalie in the cell, following her head shaving. The film just stopped, lights came on, and ads (that looked like they were about a year old) started playing on the screen. They got the movie started again after about 5 mins. I think I missed about 30 seconds-1 min of the film, and they never rewound it, though we all yelled for it. And I did not get a free pass, though I might have if I had been "demanding" about it.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

Ok, this is WEIRD. I saw the fllm up in Van Nuys. I actually really enjoyed it, but also recognized the flaws. however as a whole I enjoyed it far more then I did not. But, the weird part is that about mid-way through the film it jumped a few times, and the middle of the screen scratched out hard with grey squiggly lines similar to static. That's damned strange!

2:07 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Alright -- anyone know if these are all digital projections? Maybe there was a problem with the manufacturing of the discs, or something akin to that?

2:14 AM  
Anonymous jojje said...

ok. i liked the movie, and that's not because i found its message extraordinarily deep or shocking. The message was ok, and as some of you said, it's not something we didn't know already. For me, the script was all the money. The depth was in the dialogues. And I don't remember thinking "that was an unnecessary comment/reply", which is not so common. There's a lot of empty blah blah in most movies, and i was very pleased to watch a movie with such a tight and thoughtful dialogue.

And as for the technical problems, I have an incident to report aswell, although it's not so dramatic as the ones of earlier posters. I watched the movie in Sweden, and there was a sound error somewhere in the middle of the film (not sure on the exact time). It seemed like the system switched between the audio tracks, probably caused by an error in the default audio track.

11:12 PM  
Blogger ball-and-chain said...

Joel: that datingmaster guy does that all the time. I'd probably delete it.

Thanks for the review. I was trying to decide if the movie had a message and if so if it would be one I disliked. I never (if I can help it) see movies with messages that contradict my values. I'll give it a miss. Frankly, I've given everything a miss this year. Didn't even see any of the Oscar contenders and probably never will. There hasn't been a movie in a loooong while that I've felt like seeing.

2:24 AM  
Blogger Homage said...

Well, Fun Joel, you don't strike me as the sort to miss a glaringly obvious screenplay point or cue. And while the freres Wackowski don't themselves usually strike me as slouches in this regard, I too felt like this movie (from which I have got home only this evening, and which I really should post my thoughts on, so as to make my slanderous pre-viewing comments all the more ridiculous) was missing some sort of keystone, be it ideological, narrative or political. And I have some inkling of why. Unfortunately, I think that to discuss this is going to make me sound a little like a blinkered fan of the comic book, so I'll preface this by saying that, flaws and all, I rather enjoyed watching this movie...
Okay, so one of the themes of V For Vendetta - something the Wachowskis, in writing this pic, have obviously worked quite hard to preserve from its source text - is the notion of avoiding easy binary choices, the "a = GOOD / b = BAD" kind of dichotomies that they (quite rightly) see as having been instrumental in Getting Us Into This Mess In The First Damn Place. I mean, obviously, the whole shebang could be seen as something of a working illustration of the horribly hackneyed truism about one man's terrorist and another's freedom fighter (a point not lost on, well, any reviewer ever).
But this notion of blurred grey ideologies works a lot better in a cult comic book than it does in a Big Loud Action Movie: I truly believe that our friends Larry and Andy wanted to present us with a narrative that condemned Fascism while admitting that Anarchy isn't really a viable option either, and that gave us a protagonist who fucked bad peoples' shit up in the name of good, but whose own politics were so manky when you got down to it that there's no way you could call him a "hero". I feel that's what they wanted to do, but I feel they failed pretty hugely. Which isn't all that surprising.
I mean, if you're huge bankable screenwriters and you can do whatever you choose and you choose to do this, there's got to be a good reason for it. But - and I admit I'm speculating as to why these guys made this movie - it seems like whatever they wanted to convey in translating it has been somewhat drowned out in easy answers and quick-fixes.
For me, when it's working, V For Vendetta is fun, and feels like it has a Point. But when it's not working, it's because it's heavy-handed and didactic in delivering messages so obvious as to be embarrassing (Dictators Are Bad; People Shouldn't Be Complacent; [Insert Public Enemy Lyric Here]), and it's doing it because it's confused.
It either doesn't know how to say what it wants to say; or it's got the medium down, but is having a little trouble with the message; or maybe I'm just cutting the whole thing too much slack and it doesn't know what it wants to say OR how it might go about saying it.

...I should have quit several paragraphs ago and just made this a review, shouldn't I?

1:45 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Homage --

Thanks for your comments. I think they are pretty dead-on, so no worries about the verbiosity! :-)

7:52 PM  
Anonymous patrick said...

watched V for Vendetta recently, eye-candy effects, amazing how much character they developed into a mask, idealogical to boot, loved it.

11:35 PM  

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