V for Vendetta: PASS


American Experience: Fly Girls


The Battle of Britain: PICK


Content advisory:

V for Vendetta: Glamorous depictions of gory action violence, politically motivated killings and blowing up government buildings; an extremely negative depiction of a corrupt cleric, including a sexual scene (no nudity); some profanity and harsh language; grisly mass-grave imagery with brief nudity. Fly Girls: Nothing objectionable. Battle of Britain: Bombing violence.

Written and produced by the Wachowski Brothers, V for Vendetta (new on DVD) recaptures something of the bold, provocative blend of intriguing themes and ultraviolent action that made The Matrix the most discussed and debated action movie since Star Wars. What it doesn’t have is The Matrix’s philosophical open-endedness. Fans continue to debate whether The Matrix is more influenced by Eastern mysticism or Cartesian philosophy, Christianity or gnosticism. By contrast, V for Vendetta weighs down its dystopian scenario with leaden specificity and sanctimonious ideo-political commentary.

Based on an Alan Moore graphic novel, the film stars Hugo Weaving as “V,” a masked antihero fighting fascism in a brutal future Britain. He wears a mask representing Guy Fawkes, the 17th-century Catholic conspirator whose participation in the failed “gunpowder plot” to blow up the Houses of Parliament and end the anti-Catholic reign of James I has for 400 years been commemorated every fifth of November by his burning in effigy all over Britain.

Moore’s villains were full-blown fascists, members of a Nazi-like party called Norsefire, complete with racial-purity laws and aggressive persecution of homosexuals. The Wachowskis retain some Nazi stylings, but drop the racial-purity theme and replace the Norse mythology references with vicious stereotyping of fundamentalist Christianity. Throw in topical allusions to the war on terror and the Patriot Act (prisoners in black hoods, anti-Muslim sentiment, covert electronic surveillance of citizens), and you’ve got a ham-fisted parody of the Bush administration.

 In Nazi Germany, homosexuality was persecuted for state and ideology reasons, but the film gives the theme an overtly anti-Christian twist. Moral affirmation of homosexuality becomes the necessary alternative to persecution; belief that homosexuality is objectively disordered puts you on the side of the concentration camp officials. Completing the perverse picture is a Catholic-bashing depiction of a corrupt pedophile bishop who likes to “play confession” with the young girls his aides obtain for him, and who was complicit in the regime’s crimes against humanity, including the Mengele-like prisoner experiments. How ironic that a story that romanticizes a Catholic extremist’s acts against an anti-Catholic regime would itself be so anti-Catholic.

A pair of aviation-themed WWII DVD releases are worth checking out. Recently released on DVD, Fly Girls is a 60-minute documentary produced for PBS’s “American Experience” series that recounts the history of the WASPs, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, an all-female civilian pilot group who served during WWII.

The WASP program employed women pilots for non-combat flights and thus maximize the availability of male pilots for combat missions. The WASPs ferried aircraft for the military, trained male pilots, tested experimental aircraft, even towed targets for shooting practice. Yet efforts to accord the WASPs military/veteran status were unsuccessful until 1977. Blending archival footage, survivor interviews and expert commentary, Fly Girls offers an eye-opening look at the struggles and achievements of these pioneering women.

The Battle of Britain, available in a new DVD edition, recounts the pivotally important air battle between the German Luftwaffe and the RAF in the latter part of 1940. Like the Pearl Harbor film Tora! Tora! Tora! it has a restrained, docudrama style that enhances its aura of realism, despite some clichéd character subplots and a caricatured presentation of the Nazis.

The largely historical treatment offers insights into the importance of new radar technology and the rise of raids against civilian rather than military targets. Battle of Britain is a worthwhile tribute to the RAF pilots who gave Hitler his first defeat.