March 20th, 2006

Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

georgie and I are almost always willing to expend $8.50 at the cinema to satisfy curiousity, and we wer both curious about "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," she becasue she had read Stere's famous novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman," and I becasue I had not. It has become a cliche in the reviews to refer to the book as "unfilmable." All I can say following this movie is, it hasn't been filmed yet, either. newspaper and internet writeup have been fairly frank in describing the way the movie breaks the fram with the actors initially commenting on the action as actors, and then sequeing into a sort of making-of film. What most writers aren't clear on is how very little of the novel is actually even attempted to be put on screen. despite the fact that, as some of the crew characters say, there's so much in the book, the film essentially gives up on Sterne's story after about a half-hour to forty minutes on one sequence involving Tristam's birth. After the actor's end shooting for the day, we follow the cast and crew through a long night of scripting and casting conferences, arguements and flirtations that are not nearly as clever, funny, or interesting as the tantalising bits of the novel we got before. One hopes that we'll eventually get back to seeing some of the "movie" but we never do. Even in a scene of wotching the rushes, we watch the crew watch the rushes, but don't get to see the actual rushes. The strong impression one has is that they gave up on trying to adapt the novel and just decided to make a "making-of" movie instead. The problem is, it's not even a good making-of film. A lot of what passes for creative process looks like feckless flailing about to me, and the crew characters are pretty uniformly dull mundane losers. I could generate a lot more witty and creative dialog from the amature theatrical troupe I'm currently working with. Star Steve Coogan, when playing "Steve Coogan" presents himself as a petty, shallow, self-absorbed, ignorant, philandering asshole who is jealous of, and abusive to, his cheerfully clueless co-star Rob Brydon. I'm not sure to what extent Coogan is being honest here or if he is, as they say, "taking the piss out" of himself, but the portrayal doesn't really make me want to see any more of his movies.

Disappointing. Give it a miss.

V for Vendetta

The GOOD movie we saw over the weekend was "V for Vendetta". The graphic novel was one of the first, along with "The Watchmen" that was really worthy of that name. I read it when it was first published, and found it to be a powerful indictment, not only of Thatcherite conservatism as then practiced in Britain, but of the smug Reagan policies then current in the USA. Although the famously iconoclastic and pricly author, Alan Moore, has not permitted his name to be used on the film, I found the film to be a fine adaptation of what has become an even more timely story. In the ear-future, we find Britain a facistic dictatorship. The "former" United States have degenerated into chaos and civil war following the disastrous consequences pf "their war", and unspecified overseas adventure gone terribly wrong and that has left much of the Third World devastated. People of color generally and Muslims in particular are endangered species, and the goverment has extended its repression to homosexuals and, of course, any dissidents.

As the story opens, we meet Evey (Natalie Portman), who is out after curfew and falls foul of the brutal secret police. She is rescued from them by the masked anarchist "V" (Hugo Weaving) who unintentionally gets her in worse trouble as she is captured on surveillance camera in his company as he blows up the Old Bailey in the name of Justice. What happens after that is a powerful, dramatic, and sometimes brutal story that unfolds the origin of "V" as it is entwined with the rise and eventual fall of the corrupt government of "arch-Chancellor" Adam Sutler (John Hurt).

The film raises good issues of conscience, freedom, and the costs of security. "V" is pretty clearly a "freedom fighter" rather than a "terrorist" at least to the audience, but one could legitimatly ask how justified, and how effective, some of his tactics might be. (In true movie hero fashion, he manages to accomplish even major actions without apparent harm to innocents--.)

Portman and Weaving are well supported by a distinguished cast of British actors, including the aforementioned Hurt, who spends most of the movie expostulating on a big screen from an "undisclosed location", Tim Pigott-Smith as the creepy chief of secret police, and Stephen Rea, the honest cop tasked with tracking "V" down. All Weaving's acting has to be carried by voice and action, and he does very well. Portman is excellent, also.

This film has my highest recommendation. All who can should see it. The movie is rated R for strong violence and some language.