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Who is that masked man? Weaving in V for Vendetta.

Freedom Is Anarchy
By Ann Morrow

V for Vendetta

Directed by James McTeigue

That George Orwell used talking animals to make his political allegories is a precedent of sorts for V for Vendetta, the exuberantly subversive new film from the Wachowski brothers (and their protégé, director James McTeigue). Unabashedly a comic-book flick, V for Vendetta is both a pop-arty joyride and a thought-provoking poke of the stick into the snoring beehive of democratic citizenry. Adapted from the trailblazing comic series by Alan Moore, the script has been smartly updated from the Thatcher era to the Iraq War era. The gist of this vigilante thriller is fear: how oppressors use fear as a control tool, and how resisting fear can liberate the populace. But first, it opens with an evocative prologue regarding Guy Fawkes, the English rebel who was hanged in 1605 for his part in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. As in the Wachowskis’ 1940s-noirish The Matrix, the past is the present just as much as the future is the present.

Here, it’s the year 2020. America is being laid to waste by civil war, and Britain is ruled by a totalitarian dictator. Creating fear of terrorism is one of the regime’s most effective gambits, along with fears of viral epidemics, immigrants, and degenerates.

Evey (Natalie Portman) is a gofer at the state-sanctioned TV station. Out one night past curfew, she is intercepted by government goons, and then rescued from certain rape by a caped avenger (Hugo Weaving). Disguised by a Guy Fawkes mask, the avenger displays a superhuman skill with ninja-type knife fighting, and an almost equally dazzlingly elocution: He explains himself to Evey with a rant of razor-sharp alliteration. Both scared and fascinated, Evey calls him “V,” more for his favorite consonant than for the knife mark he leaves as a calling card. Without quite meaning to, she enters into his elaborate scheme of retribution. For V is not fighting for truth, justice, or revolution, but for vengeance, pure and simple. And if truth, justice, and revolution are served along the way, well, a streak of predestination is something that Orwell, Moore, and the Wachowskis all have an appreciation for.

Equal parts Zorro, Phantom of the Opera, and Count of Monte Cristo, V begins his obsessively premeditated revenge with the explosion of the Old Bailey building. The grand old structure goes down spectacularly, accompanied by fireworks and the 1812 Overture. As expected from the Wachowskis, the film’s visual style is flashily kinetic. It’s also disturbing without being sick, and violent without being gory: In a climactic set piece, V duels with a goon squad, and his daggers leave motion waves in the air while the blood spurts in comic-like puddles.

Weaving, with his dispassionately magnetic voice, is an ideal choice for V. With just his hypnotic voice patterns (and a really cool mask), Weaving creates a fully dimensional and affecting character.

Evey also has to throw off oppression, but hers is of a more personal nature. An easily cowed conformist, she is forced to find her inner strength in a tour-de-force sequence (Portman, who is not a great actress, pulls this off by sheer sincerity). The film’s psychology is as crazily gutsy as its sociopolitical knife strokes. In fact, V for Vendetta is nervy enough to end on a note of we-are-the-world optimism. Perhaps only a comic-book flick could get away with being that radical.

BY ANY OTHER NAME

She’s the Man

Directed by Andy Fickman

What’s more unbelievable than the plot of She’s the Man, in which a girl pretends to be her brother in order to make the soccer team, play the sport she loves and, in the process, get revenge on her boor of an ex-boyfriend? Well, perhaps Twelfth Night, the Shakespeare play on which this teen comedy is based.

A surprisingly fresh comedy, She’s the Man offers the endearing Amanda Bynes as Viola Hastings. When her private school cuts the girls soccer team, and she is not allowed to try out for the boys team, she takes advantage of her twin brother Sebastian’s (James Kirk) absence by taking his place at his school and, well—you read the setup in the first paragraph. Of course, Viola-as-Sebastian’s roommate turns out to be hunky Duke Orsini (Channing Tatum), the team captain, who has an unrequited thing for Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who in turn has the hots for the faux Sebastian. After a humorous staged scene proves to Duke and the guys that Sebastian is, after all, BMOC material, Viola-as-Sebastian offers to coach the tongue-tied jock in such a way as to woo the lovely Olivia. Meanwhile, Viola, as herself, falls in love with Duke, while the real Sebastian’s very bitchy girlfriend Monique totters at the edge of the proceedings in her Jimmy Choos, threatening to expose the whole sham.

She’s the Man has all the trappings of classic teen-angst flicks, from Gidget to John Hughes. The soundtrack pulsates cool vibrations and the characters are all good-looking in a nonthreatening kind of way. That said, it provides strikingly sharp observations about the vapidity of being a white suburban male—when did these guys start talking like 50 Cent?—and its depiction of high-school politics is refreshingly direct. Mostly, however, it’s a flick that is surprisingly effective, mostly because of Bynes’ ability to depict both the sweet and the sappy of teenage puppy love. As a boy, she’s a hoot to watch in general, but it’s when, disguised as her brother, she darts furtive longing looks at her beloved Duke while maintaining a masculine pose that she really gets to us. You want her to succeed, both on the soccer field and off, and if in the process you feel young again, so what?

—Laura Leon


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