View from the Couch
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Date: 31 August, 2006
This month, Steve Couch reviews the DVDs of V for Vendetta, The Weather Man, Transamerica and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.
Use the links to order the DVDs from amazon.co.uk and Christian Aid will receive a percentage of the sale.
V for Vendetta
The Wachowski brothers make their post-Matrix return, although this time only as screenwriters (directing duties are handled here by their erstwhile assistant director James McTeigue). As ever life in Wachowski central is a dark, dystopic vision of the future. Alan Moore, who created the original V for Vendetta graphic novel in the 1980s, has apparently disowned the film along with all other movie adaptations of his work. After the fiasco that was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it’s hard to blame him, but don’t let that put you off. I’m not familiar with the original V for Vendetta, so can’t comment on how faithful this is, but it is an infinitely better film than The League of Risible Tedium.
The movie depicts a future England as a high tech fascist state. Media manipulation and censorship run rampant, and dissenters (a group which includes ethnic minorities, homosexuals, free-thinkers and any generally arty types) are prone to disappearing in body bags in the dark of night. The hope for redemption rests in one eloquent terrorist: known only as ‘V’ and given to citing the inspiration of Guy Fawkes, he swashbuckles his way in and out of danger, calling the cowed people of London to rise up against their corrupt leaders and restore the land to democracy. Hoorah.
Hugo Weaving, whose menacing exchanges with Keanu Reeves were one of the highlights of the Matrix trilogy, gets another mouthful of the Wachowskis’ ideological musing, but he imbues V with sympathetic charm amid the moral ambiguity. As good as Weaving’s performance is, he is eclipsed by Natalie Portman’s Evey, the everywoman who gets caught up in V’s schemes and has to decide which side she wants to be on. Elsewhere there is doleful support from Stephen Rea as the police chief on V’s trail, and effective cameos from John Hurt (splenetic and megalomaniacal), Stephen Fry (erudite and sensitive) and Tim Pigott-Smith (amoral and conniving).
The film may be set in London, but much of the social commentary seems more concerned with the real-world political climate on the other side of the Atlantic. The film addresses the marriage of right wing politics and religion, as well as the current levels of intolerance to any expression of dissent. Ideologically, this isn’t a subtle film, but it produces enough unexpected narrative twists to keep an audience interested, and it depicts a world more closely recognisable as our own than the latter stages of the Matrix trilogy.The single disc edition is disappointingly short on extras. A solitary featurette is pretty good as fifteen minute featurettes go, but it’s the only item on a gallingly short menu. Nevertheless, it includes a brief history lesson on the original source material for the uninitiated, before allowing various members of cast and crew to reflect on the political themes of the movie. Stephen Fry and John Hurt are particular articulate, and there are good contributions from director McTeigue and producer Joel Silver, who once again fulfils the role as the voice of the Wachowskis on earth.
A suspenseful, politically charged thriller which delivers a satisfying resolution.
Click here for the Damaris Study guide for V for Vendetta
The Weather Man
The marketing for The Weather Man suggests a feel-good comedy, with Nicolas Cage as a TV weatherman who is constantly subjected to fast-food missiles from passers by who want to bring a local minor celebrity down a peg or two. Ho ho, how we would chuckle.
This film is not a comedy. That isn’t to say that there aren’t laughs to be had (a group therapy session for married couples is enjoyably squirm-inducing), or even that this isn’t a good film (it is). The problem is that the marketing will give you completely the wrong idea. This is a good film that has a reasonably sophisticated agenda, exploring the details of growing older and discovering that the limitless options of youth have deserted you. Life doesn’t always work out the way we planned, and at a certain age you begin to realise that to a large extent you’re stuck with the way things are.
Cage is at his best expressing frustrated disbelief at the state of the world (some might say that’s a fair summary of his career, and while I’ve not always been his biggest fan, he’s well cast and effective here). We see Cage’s angst as he wrestles with fractured relationships on all fronts: with his estranged wife, his two children and his award winning novelist father. Michael Caine plays the latter, and delivers an understated and subtly nuanced supporting performance.Although there is a happy ending of sorts, this is far from the feel-good movie promised on the cover of the DVD box. Nevertheless, its treatment of the themes of lost youth and receding options, of inter-generational tensions and of deep seated disappointment with life is intelligent and thoughtful.
Good film, shame about the marketing.
Click here to read the Damaris study guide for The Weather Man
An astonishing performance from Felicity Huffman, (who, in my opinion, has always been the best thing in Desperate Housewives). Huffman plays Bree (nee Stanley) a pre-operative transsexual desperately waiting for the operation that will finally make her into the woman she has always believed herself to be. Days before her operation Bree discovers that she has a son, Toby (Kevin Zegers), from a brief fling, and that he is in trouble with the law. Torn between her responsibilities to Toby, her fear of his rejection and her reluctance to jeopardise her surgical appointment, Bree sets out on a long road-trip.
Ultimately this is a film about identity and tolerance, and Bree’s relationship with Toby forces both of them to confront their own prejudices. Some viewers may feel uncomfortable with the way that the film has little time for the complexities surrounding the issue of trans-sexuality, but the emotional interplay between Bree and Toby shows a sensitivity and depth that transcends any amount of ideological baggage.
The extras are reasonable, and include a sprightly commentary track from director Duncan Tucker. The down side is that the menus force you to listen over and over again to excerpts from Dolly Parton’s theme song. It’s an inoffensive enough ditty at first, but there’s only so much a man can take. Viewers who share my sensitivities might prefer to skip the Dolly Parton music video and, indeed, the making of said video, both of which are included here. Fans of Dolly Parton though, will have two big reasons to celebrate.Click here for the Damaris Study Guide for Transamerica
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
The Jack Nicholson 1975 masterpiece is one of a host of classic movies being released in DVD special editions this month. You should also look out for titles such as Casablanca, Clint Eastwood’s peerless anti-Western Unforgiven, a couple of De Niro gangster flicks (Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America) and James Dean’s iconic Rebel Without A Cause, among others.
With each of the releases featuring a bonus disc of extras and selling at a knock-down price, it’s a great chance for anyone who hasn’t got around to buying an old favourite, or who just wants to add some classics to their DVD collection. Enjoy.