V

Yesterday, on very short notice my boss decided to take my whole team out. I guess we’re at quarter end and he had budget for something that went away next week. The result was the sort of day that works out perfectly with no planning whatsoever. One of my co-workers is from Ethiopia, and he’s […]

Yesterday, on very short notice my boss decided to take my whole team out. I guess we’re at quarter end and he had budget for something that went away next week.

The result was the sort of day that works out perfectly with no planning whatsoever.

One of my co-workers is from Ethiopia, and he’s introduced us to what may be the best Ethiopian restaurant in the bay area; it’s certainly the best one I’ve ever been to and I’m a huge fan of that cuisine

http://www.zenirestaurant.com/

An absolutely wonderful meal. For those who don’t know, Ethiopian food consists mostly of stew-like dishes; it’s both served on, and eaten with, a unique soft, spongy flatbread called Injera which has a flavor (faintly like sourdough) and texture unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten.

You don’t get plates. You don’t get forks. You get a platter covered with Injera, with the various meat, veggie and salad dished dolloped directly on the Injera. You then tear strips of the bread and use it as your utensils.

In flavor, it’s akin to Morroccan, with certain dishes having an almost indian character; red pepper, cumin, cardamom, gigner, and coriander are prominent spices.

It’s a cuisine for people who are not afraid to get elbow-deep in a meal. It’s also a cuisine I tend to avoid eating too often because, once started, I tend to eat until ready to absolutely explode. It’s a sensual experience, rich, spicy, aromatic buttery flavors, and food experienced by touch as well as taste, smell, and vision. I can imagine taking a date (not, however, a first date) to such a meal, and feeding each other morsels of exotic-spiced meat while sharing a flask of Tej, Ethiopian mead.

It could be an awkward meal with co-workers. Luckily, my team are a bunch who like to eat, and who know each other well enough that we’re not afraid to wear some food in from of each other.

After the meal, Bossman treated us to a quickly-chosen movie (based on when it was playing more than anything else); luckily also my first choice of a movie.

V for Vendetta.

Now let’s say up front, I’m a huge Alan Moore fan. No disrespect to Gaiman or Frank Miller, but to my mind, Moore is the inventor of what we today called the graphic novel. He’s the man who took a lame muck-monster comic, Swamp Thing, and turned it into possibly the best comic ever published. He’s the guy who re-invented both comics in general and the superhero genre with Watchmen. And he’s the man who wrote a bold, frightening, bizarre comic about a terrorist who dresses as Guy Fawkes.

I read V for Vendetta when it was new – I don’t think I ever finished it, I can’t recall why. Maybe it was one of those times when I gave up comics like one gives up smack; I have a problem with just buying one, so from time to time I have to go cold-turkey. But whatever it was, I’ve been waiting for someone to do something with that comic ever since.

Typically, when I heard it was going to be a movie, I was both afraid and excited. I hate, hate a holywood ruing of something important. *cough*Ask the Dust*Cough. But some things just cry out to be done right, and given the guys in charge (the Matrix brothers, Andrew and Larry Wachowski), and given the source material, I was hoping, just maybe, they nailed it.

Ok, so Alan Moore disowned it. But he’s Alan Moore. Look at him, you can see the guy’s a couple inmates short of an asylum. I haven’t found the details on what he objected to, but in the end, you gotta look at the movie, like Kubrick’s The Shining and say, forget the book, did they make a good movie?

They did. And fuckin’ how.

This isn’t an easy movie to make. To start you have a plot that depends on some idea of who the fuck Guy Fawkes is any why The Fifth of November is important. Not an easy sell in the USA. Then you have a lead who never takes off his mask.

It works; part of it’s due to the incredibly charismatic, sexy presence of Natalie Portman, with whom I’ve been in love since I spent all of Phantom Menace thinking about her mouth. She turns in what is certainly the performance of her career thus far (though I’m betting she’s go lots of brilliant performances ahead of her). A girl who manages to look that intensely sexy while sobbing on a prison floor is someone I could watch all damned day.

It works despite the dead plastic face Hugo Weaving wears all the way through it; he does a great job in what’s almost completely a voice gig. He resists the temptation too over-do the physical performance, to over-do the voice. He’s a man in a mask, but he just plays it, and by the end of the movie when he’s asked to take off the mask and doesn’t, you’re rooting for him not to. You don’t want to see what’s under it, you want him to be what he is, an enigmatic presence with no face and no name.

James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for some or all of the Matrix films, avoids the major pitfalls of so many sci fi epics; he doesn’t try to make things look far away and futuristic. He doesn’t overwhelm us with special effects or elaborate makeup or bizarre technology. This movie doesn’t play as sci-fi, it could be any time, now, the late 90’s (the date in Moore’s original comic), or it could be 2020. He lets the characters and ideas run the story, not the special effects.

This is a story about ideas. It’s easy to simply say it’s a movie about today’s american government, and to be sure, you can’t escape that idea. This is where we’re headed if our current regime is taken to it’s ultimate conclusion. The hitler-like figure played so effectively by John Hurt is scary because you can hear echos of today’s politics.

But it’s not as direct and simple as that. Moore’s story is about anarchy vs. fascism, not about republicans vs democrats. It’s about the extremes in both directions. It’s about fighting a fight that will kill you and drive you mad.

It’s about terrorism; but we’re seeing it from the side of the terrorist, the man who fights an ideological battle with bombs and murder. It’s about a monster fighting a monster system. There’s no clear high moral ground he stands on; the enemies are evil, but are they any worse than our hero?

There are flaws. It’s a comic-book style story, so some of the plot logic doesn’t hold up to intense scrutiny. V’s hair, which made sense in the comic, winds up being dorky rather than threatening in real life. I kept thinking bad wig. And some of the plot developments late in the movie seem to happen to abruptly without adequate explanation (I’d explain but no spoilers).

But the quibbles are small. The movie looks great, it’s well cast, well acted, well paced for such a long movie (2.5 hours). The dialog is well written (I will have to get the graphic novel, I can’t recall how much of this was direct from the comic and how much was written by Wachowskis). It works well as pure escapist, and as political commentary. And it’s got some choice dialog I’ll be quoting until you all get sick of it.

And oh my god is Natalie Portman hot with her head shaved. Holy christ. I want her.

7 thoughts on “V”

  1. You got it right when you said you have to disassociate the comic from the movie. In the comic, there is no love story. From what I understand, they took like, 50% of the comic and then layered in the love story which wasn’t part of the comic at all. That’s from a serious comic geek (not me).
    Me, I’ll wait ’til it comes out on dvd. But thanks for the review because I’ve never read the comic and *can* completely disassociate 😉

  2. Love story? Rrrrrr….

    I just finished reading the book again, having read the original comics right when the last ones were coming out. Mostly it stands up. I hate the cabaret songs in the book the same way I hate the poety in LOTR, but, well, what are you gonna do.

    The latest publication of the book has an essay in the back about how the story and characters were developed, and it was fascinating reading since I’m wresting with the same kind of shit right now.

    Can’t wait to see the movie, but as usual, I’ll probably have to wait for the DVD.

    And Natalie Portman with a shaved head…woof! I would crawl over broken glass for a woman who can pull off the Sinead look like that.

  3. I don’t know that I’d call it a love story. It’s just a little bit of an undercurrent; not over-played at all. I’ll have to get the comics and see how much they changed.

    And yeah – she’s so damned hot. I mean, she’s stunning anyway, but just seeing her getting her head shaved… Yum. I’m just sorry she never gets naked.

  4. Well, that clinches it. Looks like I’m headed to the local Cineplex with the missus today to catch it. Hopefully on the IMAX screen if they don’t sell out for the early show. Oddly enough, I’ve never been a big Alan Moore fan (Frank Miller, for some reason, always won out in the battle of what to buy back in my comic collection days), but I’ve always enjoyed what he’s created, but with the positive reviews all around, I’m hoping that the Wachowski bros. redeem themselves for the convoluted but wrapped-up mess of the Matrix.

  5. I (heart) Ethiopian food. Anything I can eat with my fingers with propriety is absolutely A-OK by me. And I say it’s an excellent litmus test for a first date.

  6. Can I have Hugo Weaving covered with Ethiopian food? Or, for that matter, Natalie Portman?

    Seriously though, now I’ve read a review by a guy, I really need to get my butt to Regal Cinemas. I’ve got a silly childhood fetish for guys in masks, so it’s good to read a well-thought-out review by a friend (a GUY friend) before going to see it and porning myself into missing the finer plot points.

  7. porning myself

    Now I have a new favorite phrase.

    The love undercurrent was there in the book, but was never overt. I’m glad to hear they didn’t play that up in the film.

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