0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

V for Vendetta (2005).
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt.
Director: James McTeigue.
Synopsis: A masked freedom fighter battles against an oppressive pseudo-fascist regime in Britain of the near future.
Dean's comments: The science fiction and fantasy genres are often excellent at providing metaphors for the trials and tribulations of humanity and human civilisation; ‘V for Vendetta’ is no exception. The film is set in a comic-book-styled Orwellian vision of Britain in the near future, a Britain in which a quasi-fascistic dictatorship rules with an iron fist and experiments secretly on its citizens in pursuit of its military aims. One man – V – decides that he is Britain’s moral arbiter, and that it falls to him alone to chop off the head of the dictatorship with a combination of terrorist attacks and motivational tactics designed to stir a docile population into revolution. There are a number of irritating things about this film – the Americanisation of England for example, everyone says ‘bollocks’ and no one seems to understand what Guy Fawkes night is really about – but these should not detract from the strength of the moral messages that emerge from it. The people of Britain are unquestionably responsible for the existence of their dictatorship (a sideways glance at the current population's ambivalence towards identity cards and other freedom-sapping measures) and the only way to re-invigorate the nation is through grass roots action. Despite a slightly frustrated performance from Natalie Portman and an awkwardly ‘Truman Show’-like portrayal of Britain’s population, the underlying power of the film’s message is undeniable. Having Hugo Weaving deliver an extended alliterative monologue does not make the film intellectually valid, nor does using lots of big multi-syllabled words so that the fan boys feel superior; it’s the use of fantasy imagery to unwrap the disguised totalitarianism of ‘protecting our freedoms’ that does. Thus the film explores the moral and ethical ambiguities of ‘fighting the power’ in the modern age of America’s ‘war on terrorism’ while delivering a surprisingly emotionally-engaging story and a rousing finale in which Britain’s downtrodden populous march en masse to recover the liberties they gave up so easily. So ignore the special effects and embrace the politics; ‘V for Vendetta’ is certainly flawed, but it has enough to hold the interest of anyone willing to put aside their expectations of the super-hero genre film and realise that not every valid treatise on modern politics has to be written by a grey-haired philosopher or delivered by Jeremy Paxman.
Rating: 7/10.

Van Helsing (2004).
Starring: Hugo Jackman, Kate Beckinsale.
Director: Stephen Sommers.
Synopsis: The legendary vampire hunter travels to Transylvania to battle Dracula and Frankenstein's monster.
Dean's comments: This is a brainless action adventure film that ruthlessly pillages from 19th centaury literature to make an over-produced mush of villains and dark heroes with a completely inexplicable plot. Kate Beckensale does wear a rather fetching corset, though her attempt at an Eastern European accent is laughable. The opening black and white sequence gives you hope that you might get a half decent thriller, that's all thrown away in the very next scene as Van Helsing battles Dr Jeckyl / Mr Hyde ??
Rating: 3/10.

Vanilla Sky (2001).
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Kurt Russell.
Director: Cameron Crowe.
Synopsis: A man who has been left, by his late father, in charge of a large magazine empire begins to experience a mental breakdown when the differences between dreams and reality become blurred.
Dean's comments: This is a film which isn't sure whether it wants to be a science fiction thriller, a mystery or a de-basement of the American corporate dream where everything is about appearences. Instead of coming up with a polished piece which merges all these themes, Cameron Crowe delivers a film which is untidy and needlessly confusing. It's almost as if he has seen a couple of David Lynch films and thought "I could do that", but is scared that people wont watch it if he doesn't provide a spoon-fed conclusion. The film should be an indictment of the fact that you can do anything with money; the main character (played by Cruise) can literally do anything because he has enough to pay for it (you'll see how this is literal by the end of the film). He is a terribly vain man who cannot live without his looks and treats love like a game. The film's message is confused as a result of this; it's a shame that further discussion would give the revelation away but I hope you will agree that Cruise's character certainly doesn't deserve the ending he is offered by the script. In terms of pure science fiction, the film doesn't open up any new doors in terms of innovative story-telling. Aside from some good camera work and a clever post modern moment at the end when Cruise is asked to look directly at the viewing audience, 'Vanilla Sky' is a little disappointing.
Rating: 4/10.

Versus (2001).
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda.
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura.
Synopsis: A gang war spreads into a forbidden forest where zombies lurk.
Dean's comments: One of the most violent films I have ever witnessed, ‘Versus’ doesn’t have a great premise. The idea that you might want to sit through 2 hours of people shooting, knifing and killing people and zombies seems somewhat alien to the interests of the average film-goer. The oddest thing about ‘Versus’ is perhaps more the fact that the film keeps up interest and voyeuristic interest in the gore on screen by devising more and more interesting ways to kill monsters, and then more and more interesting ways to put all this action on screen. There is a wealth of exciting and bizarre camera angles on show with an equivalent quantity of bad ‘dramatic’ music and a mystical ‘re-incarnation’ plot that is lifted right out of a bad manga comic. Lots of knowing looks and dramatic zooms aside, ‘Versus’ is hugely entertaining. The stuff of legends and cinematic history it is not, but for a brainless romp with a beer and a slice of pizza in hand this ‘Asia Extreme’ movie hit’s the mark surprisingly well.
Rating: 5/10.

A Very Long Engagement (2004).
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel.
Director: Jean Pierre Jeunet.
Synopsis: A woman searches for her long lost fiancee, a man who was convicted of cowardice during the first world war.
Dean's comments: I don't know about a 'long engagement', there is nothing uncertain about the unnecessary length of this film though. A film which is about the innocence of love and the heartlessness of war, '... engagement' is a love story in which Audrey Tatou's character's belief in the safety of her presumed-dead fiancée is shown to be enough of a force to bring him back alive. Certainly a heart-warming way to discuss the triumph of humanity despite war, but I can't help thinking that the film's final message is that as long as the people you personally know are OK, the rest of the death and destruction caused by a war don't matter. Of course this is far too harsh a criticism, but the girlish and wide-eyed naivety of Tautou's character never truly has her eyes opened to the horrors of the war; the writers chose to shield their paragon of innocence from the reality of the world. I feel that this decision was a poor one, and that the standard of the film is brought down as a result. None-the-less, a simple tale of whirlwind romances and love-at-first-sight is always welcome if done with the right amount of cheekiness and playful exuberance; '... engagement' has this in spades. Whether this naivety in the main character undermines the portrayal of France at war or emphasises the triumph of humanity over suffering is up to the viewer to decide. Although a little too long, I recommend you invest the time to make up your own mind.
Rating: 6/10.

A View to a Kill (1985).
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones.
Director: John Glen.
Synopsis: Bond battles against a plan to destroy silicon valley.
Dean's comments: Despite Roger Moore being far too old for the part, Christopher Walken's role as a great bad guy means that this one is probably worth a viewing. Don't expect anything going against the Bond formula though, Roberts is particularly annoying, taking screaming and shouting to a new and utterly ridiculous level.
Rating: 4/10.

Vera Drake (2004).
Starring: Imelda Stuanton, Richard Graham.
Director: Mike Leigh.
Synopsis: A woman in 1950s post-war London performs illegal abortions.
Dean's comments: I loved almost everything about this film, from the superb performance of Imelda Stuanton as the eponymous Drake to the Cockney setting of the film and the realisation that the roots of my family lie in the same era and location that this film is set. I am a big fan of strong female characters in fiction, Vera Drake not only fills that role but is an archetypal working class hero. Here is a woman who cooks and cleans for her family, who performs the role of social worker for friends in the neighbourhood and who 'helps' local girls who have 'got themselves in trouble'. She does all this for no money and for minimal thanks; in short she is the bedrock upon which society is built, the strong matriarchal figure which has been idolised for millennia and which George Orwell described in his seminal work on the power of the working classes, '1984'. The fact that she performs illegal abortions shows up the differences between how she sees her place in the world and the laws, class differences and moralities of post war Britain. This is shown no clearer in the way that the daughter of a rich family is able to safely receive an abortion illegally through a doctor while poor working class women are forced to go to Vera with here carbolic soap and disinfectant. My only real problem with the film is that the final sequence (involving Vera Drake's arrest and trial) drags a little. This is a minor quibble though, the power and strength of Stuanton's performance and Leigh's direction shining through.
Rating: 9/10.

The Village (2004).
Starring: William Hurt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sigourney Weaver, Joaqiun Pheonix.
Director: M Night Shyamalan.
Synopsis: Inhabitants of a village in nineteenth centuary America are prevented from leaving by mysterious entities in the surrounding woods.
Dean's comments: This is one of the dullest films I have ever seen. The whole thing seems like a vehicle for the 'twist' and apart from that is nothing more than a soap opera where some of the villagers lust over others and try to marry but get knocked back before going off with others and getting killed etc etc. M Night Shyamalan is carving a career for himself by devising twists and then making bland films around them; as with 'The sixth sense', the 'twist' is obvious, this time though it's obvious from the opening scene rather than from 10 minutes in. Sorry Mr Shyamalan but you're not as clever as you like to think you are, and yes I did spot your cameo appearence as the head ranger at the end of the film. Please, if you're going to keep making films like this, can you at least make them scary?
Rating: 2/10.

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