Critic’s Choice: Films On TV This Week

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

V For Vendetta – Saturday, 10:25pm, BBC2

Virginia Woolf alluded to the experience of adaptation as rape, and Alan Moore, whose comic book this film is based on, feels much the same way. The comic was produced in the 80s, a reaction to Thatcherism and a warning of where it might lead: Britian is transformed into a fascist state. Moore, your classic quirky reclusive genius, is famously averse to his own film adaptations, treating them as an affront to his original works. After all, he’s been massacred in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, endured the misfiring From Hell, but hopefully will be paid due respect when his masterpiece Watchmen is released next year. While the film version of V isn’t quite as politically incendiary as the book, but still kicks up enough of a fuss to be worthy of Moore’s excellent comic.

Governmental power has been given a totalitarian-chic makeover, all red and black. Agencies are creepily given names of body parts: The Eye watches you, The Finger arrests you, The Nose investigates – but alas, The Tonsils found themselves on the cutting room floor (sorry). Doing the sort of evil, fate-tempting experiments that nasty governments seem to make a habit of, the bungling men in Downing Street have created their own worst enemy – V.

V, resplendent in his Guy Fawkes mask, begins as a vigilante, dispensing justice and saving Natalie Portman’s Evey from being fingered, so to speak (you at the back, stop sniggering). He has a plan to blow up parliament, and free Britain from its tyrannical overlords. Despite an unwisely alliterative entrance speech, V is a superb creation. Enigmatic, dangerous and kinda-cool-looking, you can believe that people would follow him, that he could be a powerful symbol of a revolution. He is a man who, despite being the catalyst of a violent uprising, a wanted felon, and a true renaissance man, has time to do a bit of insanely large and egotistical domino toppling. His Batcave is filled with banned artworks, music, history. He also, rather handily, kicks ass.

So what we have here is a political action film. Produced by the men who bought us The Matrix, it’s  similar to the tale of Neo: it thinks that it’s really clever, but it it isn’t, and it isn’t all that deep either. There are some irresistibly strong ideas here, though, and you’ll never be bored. You also get to see Natalie Portman having her head shaved. It’s worth mentioning V masks are now commonly used in internet-born protests outside of Scientology churches. It’s a tinpot reductionism of Moore’s original comic. The idea of anarchism has turned into a brand, something sold to us by Warner Brothers, but this film does carry the intoxicating spirit of teenage rebellion, if not quite the power of a fully-fledged revolution.

Ice Cold In Alex – Wednesday, 12:45pm, Channel 4 Alert me

A ripping wartime yarn, probably more famous these days for being a Carlsberg advert. In actual fact, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to learn that the sleazy ad-men at Carlsberg (disclaimer: Carlsberg ad men are not sleazy. Probably.) had somehow bankrolled this black and white British classic. The script has been mercifully fondled by the sausagey, purple appendages of alcoholism. The main character – played by John Mills – is indeed an alcy, and, while up to his neck in sand and baking heat, dreams of an ice cold lager. Ahh.

So, the story – there isn’t too much of it. During the desert campaign in WW2, an ambulance, nicknamed Katy, is separated from its unit, and is forced to make its way to Alexandria using the incredibly dangerous cross-country (sandy?) route. They encounter minefields, quicksand, mechanical failures (Katy was English after all, and liable to break down in hot weather) – all very simple, and all imbued with a superbly gripping tension. The crew put in their best efforts and, despite one sledgehammer-subtle twist concerning a man with a dodgy accent, they all stick together. It culminates in a classic piece of British fair play, where even the treacherous German spy gets to share a pint with his mortal enemies. Jolly good!

Shaun of the Dead – Thursday, 9pm, ITV2
Alert me

Probably the finest example of the (admittedly small) zom-rom-com genre, Shaun of the Dead is  bloody delightful. You’ve probably seen it – but on the off chance that you haven’t, don’t hold off any longer!

The loserish Shaun (a note-perfect Simon Pegg) has a crap job in Dixons and has broken up with his girlfriend. He has to sort his life out, and reclaim his one true love – but he probably doesn’t  realise that what he really needs is a zombie apocalypse. Soon enough, he’s transformed into a cricket-bat-wielding hero, bopping heads and chucking old vinyl (“Dire Straits?? “Throw it.?) at the shambling hordes. Many winning scenes of zombie death, yes, but it’s all enhanced by a touching romance at the centre of the story, and a cast that includes just about every British comedy actor this side of the 1990s. Nerds will enjoy spotting the references to other horror films, and everyone else will just be left with a massive smile on their faces as Shaun and co, holed up in the pub, dispatch masses of brain-chomping undead to the strains of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. Unbeatably enjoyable.

By Rob Pearson