As far as comparing The Wachowski’s V For Vendetta to its source material by Alan Moore, I may be one of the only few who feels like the film is an improvement. The graphic novel is beautifully written but bleak and drab in many instances where the film adopts a rich, full bodied and ever so slightly hopeful tone in the adaptation forage. I know Moore is somewhere out there in his yurt on the plains, reading my review on a 3G tablet and cursing my name, but oh well. Fierce political commentary, blitzkrieg action picture, careful interpersonal drama and more, this has aged well (scarily well depending on the angle one views it from) and holds up gorgeously fourteen November 5ths on since its release.
Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving make Stockholm Syndrome sexy again as Evey and V, two very different individuals whose lives have both been upended by the tyrannical, fascist British Government. He’s a vicious vigilante freedom fighter with scars on the outside and inside, she’s a wayward civilian swept up in his brutal quest to overthrow an evil dictator (John Hurt in beast mode), first as witness and later as accomplice. This involves a complex laundry list of various betrayals, sieges, escapes and terrorist acts, all brought to life in breathtaking spectacle. An underdog secret policeman (Stephen Rea, a study understated excellence) doggedly pursues them and questions his own loyalties, while the chosen date of Guy Fawkes day (hey, that’s today!) looms ever closer and with it V’s promise to blow the shit out of the parliament block.
V says it best when he growls: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” There are large scale, prescient ideas at work here and despite being based on a graphic novel it feels eerily akin to our own world. V is a product of this damaged, corrupt system who has become a monster and is now ready to administer horrific dark justice on those who wronged him, working his way up an increasingly grotesque chain of despicable politicians with grim resolve. There’s a righteous fury to his quest and no other actor could have better captured the fire and brimstone behind that mask like Weaving does, he works wonders with his voice alone. There’s a lot more action than in Moore’s novel but can you really blame the Wachowskis? They are incredible at staging set pieces and the character of V suits the swooping, knife throwing, roof leaping, swash, buckle and bloody bodily harm on display here. There’s a strong undercurrent of compassion and humanity here to, as seen in my favourite sequence of the film: Portman’s Evey is locked up in a government prison and ready to wade into despair before she finds a rolled up scroll detailing the story of the cell’s former roommate and her struggles during the rise of this horrible regime. It’s in this short flashback scene alone we see all that’s worth fighting for in the microcosm of one girl’s life and feel the justification of not just V’s violent rampage but the collective uprising it stirs in the people. Great film.
Ever heard the expression ‘inmates running the asylum?’ Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum has, and quite literally spins a terrifically gothic horror yarn for the ages around it, packed with stars, ideas, twists, beautiful scenery and a wistful aesthetic reminiscent of old Hammer horror stuff. Now if the premise sounds like a final act twist let me assure you I haven’t spoiled anything that the trailers don’t cheerfully announce early on. This film is so bonkers it starts at level ten madness and only ratchets the lever up from there. But don’t get the idea that this is a raving madhouse without story or subtlety either, for all its wanton spectacle there are well drawn human beings with something to say behind these walls.
Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, Jim Sturgess stars as an apprentice Alienist shipped off to the austere Stonehearst Asylum in rural Britain (actually stunning Bulgarian countryside) to learn the trade. Once there he discovers that the facility’s real staff have been overthrown by the patients in a violent revolution and now a cunning madman (Ben Kingsley doing a sly riff on his Shutter Island character) is impersonating the actual superintendent (an icy Michael Caine) and calling the shots. This is apparent right off the bat since the place seems to have no security protocol in place and oddballs of all shape and size cavort freely about the manor. One patient who doesn’t seem to be a hopeless basket case though is the mysterious Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a girl with a shady past and secrets up her sleeve.
Director Anderson is an unsung horror thriller maestro with an incredibly solid track record including The Machinist, Session 9, The Call, Vanishing On 7th Street and now this which is a proper old school horror flick like you don’t really see anymore. This is a film that throws in subplots simply to have them there, amps up simple set pieces until they are unnecessarily but wonderfully cacophonous and is just overall in love with storytelling. The cast are all clearly having the time of their lives especially Kingsley who injects some genuine pathos into a role that could come across as high camp in someone else’s hands, exploring the notion of what would happen for real in this outlandish scenario. We also get familiar faces like Brendan Gleeson, Jason Flemyng, Christopher Fulford, Sinead Cusack and others. Standouts include newcomer Sophie Kennedy Clarke as a scene stealing patient with a penchant for childlike melodrama and David ‘Professor Lupin’ Thewlis as a particularly scary homicidal resident. You’ve kind of gotta employ considerable suspension of disbelief here, this is a film where spectacle, atmosphere and incident dance over the graves of logic and continuity, but there’s a rich tale to be absorbed with many fine performances, gorgeous cinematography and a creaky gothic vibe. Highly recommended, you can find this streaming on Amazon Prime.
Passion Of Mind is a little seen fantasy romance tale that stars Demi Moore as a woman named Marie, essentially living double lives in a way. She lives and works in New York, and is as ordinary as any other woman in the world, but when she goes to sleep she wakes up to another life in the French countryside, with another job and children who aren’t in New York. She lives a day in the French life, goes to sleep, wakes up back in the New York life and lives for another day before going to sleep and back again. And so it goes. Is one life a dream? Or both? Is she imagining things, or stuck in some rift? To complicate things, as always happens in film, there are two men, one for each life. Aaron (William Fichtner) is a kind, caring businessman in the New York life who she begins a relationship with. In France she meets compassionate, romantic William (Stellen Skarsgard) who she also begins to fall for. Quite the predicament, no? If the premise sounds familiar to you, here’s why: there was a short lived NBC drama called Awake which ran for one season, starred Jason Isaacs and had the exact same setup. Now while the show obviously borrowed it’s central plotline from this film, it’s no big deal because it’s such a great idea it deserves more than just one shot. The film is quiet, pleasent and sweet, never really taking steps to explain it’s concept but simply letting it’s characters live within it in perplexed, whimsical harmony. Moore has an inherent sweetness to her and she’s wonderful here. One might think a protagonist who is put through a scenario would be confused, stressed out and damaged. Moore plays it her own way, as she always had. Her character is enchanted by her situation, if a little wary. Skarsgard and Fichtner are left field choices for romantic leads, as both are kind of considered character actors with stark, specific looks. Both play it straight here and their casting helps the film loads. Marie has two separate therapists, each from one of the lives (an element which the NBC show used as well), played by Joss Ackland and Peter Riegart. It’s not to serious, not too fluffy, just the right kind of low key romance with an imaginitive streak and a high concept that fits neatly into the story.