Vacation from Marriage (1945, Alexander Korda) [hr]
Magical postwar British comedy-drama (a.k.a. Perfect Strangers) with a sense of genuine yearning, about a couple who each join separate divisions from the Navy and find themselves afraid to return home to one another. Deborah Kerr and Robert Donat brilliantly show us that restraint can sometimes create the most erotic onscreen fireworks of all.
Vagabond (1985, Agnès Varda) [hr]
A movie that doesn’t feel nearly as transgressive or original as it really is while it’s playing, mostly because Sandrine Bonnaire’s performance as the homeless Mona is so fully formed and hypnotically believable; the film’s masterfully wandering eye and poetic editing only register later, along with its tirelessly unsentimental registration of Mona’s day to day existence. Varda looks as dimly upon our collective attitude toward dirt and transience as Buñuel did in Viridiana, taking particular pleasure in Mona’s grimy shoes — like Boudu’s wet fingers — upon a rich woman’s white bedsheets, and if her manner is less abrupt it’s no less damning.
Valmont (1989, Milos Forman)
* Forman’s adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons might be the least erotic movie about sex ever made. The acting is solid, but the film grows tiring quickly, though it’s roughly analogous quality-wise to Stephen Frears’ contemporaneous version of the same story.
Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [r]
One of Dreyer’s weakest films, a terminally ordinary horror tale lifted up only slightly by the director and Rudolph Maté’s impressively agile camerawork. Apart from a haunting scene of dancing shadows and some of the stunning point-of-view shots, it doesn’t really contain any imagery that wasn’t already explored more enthusiastically by Murnau, Browning, Wiene, even Griffith (see A Corner in Wheat) — and let’s be honest, this precise story was already overly familiar in Nosferatu, from which we unfortunately inherit the endless scenes of characters reading a book about vampires.
Vanilla Sky (2001, Cameron Crowe)
A man badly and permanently disfigured in an accident, maybe, sees his life seemingly falling apart around him. Crowe’s bizarre, disjointed attempt at a thriller — a shot-by-shot remake of Abre Los Ojos — is too attractive to to be believable (although Cameron Diaz is brilliant and some scenes are genuinely freaky), too tentative to be the dreamlike ghost story it wants to be, and far too explicit to be mysterious. Tom Cruise is the wrong choice for the lead role, and this jumble of ideas just doesn’t hang together.
The Vanishing (1993, George Sluizer) [r]
* I know it is shameful for me not to have seen (yet!) the original, but I actually kind of enjoyed this American remake (with the same director). And yeah, I do know the ending is a copout.
Varda by Agnès (2019, Agnès Varda) [r]
Varda's final film is a somewhat redundant victory lap, positioned as a teaching session delving into her philosophies of filmmaking and artistry. It's pleasant and touching, but you learn more by watching the films that are quoted in this one, even though it does smartly reassert how impressive and eclectic a body of work hers really is.
Variety Lights (1950, Federico Fellini & Alberto Lattuada) [r]
A beautifully shot and even more beautifully cast soap opera of the foibles of a vaudeville troupe, centering specifically on the hapless impresario played by Peppino De Filippo and the jealousies and resentments that ensue when an ambitious, good-looking dancer (Carla Del Poggio) joins up. There are some lingering nods toward neorealism but mostly this is a farce, boasting a couple of excellent scenes but struggling with its frivolity and the directors’ perverse fascination with sheer loutishness.
Vegas Vacation (1997, Stephen Kessler) [NO]
* National Lampoon wouldn’t even put their name on this. And they put their name on Class Reunion, Loaded Weapon I, and Van Wilder!
The Verdict (1982, Sidney Lumet) [r]
Riveting and hugely implausible courtroom drama about a malpractice suit that brings a dishonored attorney (Paul Newman, embarrassing, more so because he’s surrounded by brilliant actors) from the brink of permanent despair and alcohol posioning is a triumph in its blocking and claustrophobic visual sensibility, capturing the coldest of Boston winters while placing a matching sensation of eerie detachment squarely in the heads of his characters. The rhythm of David Mamet’s script is impeccable, though his contempt for his lone female character (Charlotte Rampling) is creepily palpable. The finale is striking but seems cheap.
Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
James Stewart is an ex-cop whose fear of heights prevented him from being able to save an officer’s life; the condition haunts him and has grave consequences when an old friend sends him to watch over his suicidal wife. It gets even better. Dark and maddening, this must stand with Rear Window as Hitchcock’s absolute masterpiece. It’s twice as disturbing with the familiar Stewart in the lead as the man who is plagued by an erotic fascination. One of the most absorbing films ever made, and worth seeing again and again; you peel back more of the layers of meaning in this achingly moving, fucked up tale of romance and obsession every time.
A Very Brady Sequel (1996, Arlene Sanford) [r]
* A perverted Brady variation in which the characters from the awful sitcom are drugged-up psychopaths and the oldest brother and sister want to fuck? It’s like I’m in heaven. Love the musical number on the airplane, too.
V for Vendetta (2005, James McTeigue) [c]
Pretentious and naive, libertarian-appropriated pap with scattershot Dreyer / Lang-derived imagery about terrorist activity from a Guy Fawkes mask-sporting Nice Guy who speaks in blank verse and the Natalie Portman who loves and is tortured by him. The intentions here are probably good and in terms of its attitude toward civil liberties and sexuality it is pretty subversive as comic book movies go, but like its Reddit-beloved sibling The Matrix it’s ultimately quite sophomoric.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008, Woody Allen) [hr]
Like Melinda and Melinda before it, Allen’s ostensible dramedy about an American girl drifting into a tornado of a polyamorous relationship in Spain aches with curious, vivid loss. Javier Bardem’s character is a slick stereotype so realistically written and well-potrayed he often seems scarcely like a two-dimensional image. The same could be said of Penelope Cruz’s unhinged firestorm; both performers run circles around Scarlett Johansson, whose friendliness is nevertheless an asset. A lively, sad late-period high point for the director despite its clunky dialogue and sloppy editing.
Victim (1961, Basil Dearden) [hr]
A thoroughly stunning anti-homophobia film, mystifyingly overlooked and shockingly modern, about a closeted gay barrister fighting the blackmailers who led his ex-lover to suicide. Former stage director Dearden captures with harrowing menace a time of appalling oppression on gays in Britain, weaving it all into arresting film noir format. The depiction of heavy, tortured secrecy may date the story, but it also renders it even more fascinating as a window into now-incomprehensible values. It helps that the lead performance by Dirk Bogarde is so mercilessly passionate and fearless.
Victor/Victoria (1982, Blake Edwards) [hr]
Unemployed actress poses as a man posing as a woman in this truly outstanding film. If you ever want to know how far we haven’t come with sexuality and the politics thereof, watch this film with a more advanced and realistic view on homosexuality and androgyny than anything that would come out of Hollywood now… made in 1982 and set in 1934. Blake Edwards’ script (possibly his best ever) balances his usual expertly sophisticated and faux-sophisticated comedy with some cutting commentary on masculinity and the very nature of sexual identity. What makes the film, though, are the performances of Julie Andrews in the title role — brash, daring and funny — and Robert Preston as her gay supporter.
Victory Through Air Power (1943, Perce Pearce) [c]
For Disney buffs, this interesting propaganda film will offer up a lot of excitement. For others, since it is devoted completely to strategic methods of winning WWII, it will have little to no value.
Videodrome (1983, David Cronenberg) [NO]
* Cronenberg idiocy with plenty of tasteless special effects follows James Woods as a cable guy who’s starting to go off the deep end. Distressingly stupid and pointlessly bombastic.
A View to a Kill (1985, John Glen) [NO]
* Almost certainly the worst James Bond film, this ’80s goofball pastiche of camp and ill-advised humor is best defined by the opening sequence, with theme by Duran Duran. Despite the presence of oddball casting (Christopher Walken, Grace Jones!), this is just zilch, and it’s over two hours! A series killer too, with Roger Moore out of the running shortly after its release.
The Village (2004, M. Night Shyamalan) [hr]
Not a horror film but a ravishing romantic thriller about a small colony haunted by an unseen beast. Shyamalan’s messages about indoctrination and dishonesty in the name of safety are potent enough, but here they back up a (brilliantly acted) tale about love, sacrifice and superstition that approaches stunning levels of beauty (visual and otherwise).
Village of the Damned (1995, John Carpenter) [NO]
* Those darn mind-controlling kids return for the ’90s, this time with Christopher Reeve (immediately prior to his accident) and Kirstie Alley (!?) in tow. It could be a lot worse, but it’s still a hamhanded bore.
The V.I.P.s (1963, Anthony Asquith) [c]
Insipid ensemble soaper with MGM going thirty years too late for Grand Hotel in an airport, with various wealthy and noble people stuck in London because of fog, complicating their tiresome intermingling. Features an all-star cast slumming it, none more or less than the inexplicably Oscar-winning Margaret Rutherford as a ditzy old woman who pops a lot of pills. It’s all a backdrop to the lush, frustratingly vapid love triangle of Liz Taylor, Richard Burton and Louis Jourdan; you’d never guess Terence Rattigan wrote any of this. Even for someone who’s a sucker for vapid ’60s jet-set stuff this is tough going.
The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola) [hr]
Sinister, darkly comic suburban fantasy about five daughters of a strict, cordoned-off religious couple and how their deaths alter everything around them takes on a dreamlike quality that feels like the impossible way memories linger. The girls and their longing to escape a lifetime of claustrophobic limitations stands in contrast to the lustful mythology the boys build around them; the result, thanks to both Coppola and novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, is haunting.
Viridiana (1961, Luis Buñuel) [r]
Teasing jumble of satire and melodrama opens with a nun-to-be (Silvia Pinal) who’s ordered to visit the isolated farm of her benefactor, an uncle she’s barely met. It so happens that she uncannily resembles the man’s long-dead wife, and after a few days in his presence, the perversions begin to come out, later joined by a whole mob of grotesquerie after circumstances force her to stay. Buñuel’s audacity in this attack on social conventions and the Church may be justified, but in this particular case his scab-picking efforts come across as cruel, though there are some sublime, transcendent sequences, especially the astonishing beggars’ banquet at the climax.
Virtuosity (1995, Brent Leonard) [c]
* Incomprehensible sci-fi trash action pulp thriller type thing with Denzel Washington in a truly bizarre role as a fugitive ex-cop who tracks down a computer-generated serial killer, I think. Not bad but only faintly professional.
Virunga (2014, Orlando von Einsiedel) [hr]
A harrowing but unrelentingly beautiful film, and a scathing exposure of capitalism run amok; intended at first to be a document of Congo’s great national park, its staff’s dogged protection of its animals and continual battle against poachers, it instead becomes a sickening look at how war — and at that, war motivated by commercial interests — destroys normal life. It’s about how cruel and evil, but also how genuinely dedicated and compassionate, human beings can be. The photography of the park and its wildlife is stunning even on a small screen.
Viva Villa! (1934, Jack Conway) [r]
Very pre-Code, very handsome MGM biopic of Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery, in a slurring and goofy performance) openly admits to being largely fabricated and wears its catchphrase-driven proto-sitcom sensibility proudly. Biggest debit is Stuart Erwin as a boring white journalist who follows Villa around and manages to witness every major event in his life; he saps the film’s energy and keeps it from being a full-on Mexican Revolution Scarlet Empress. As the movie stands, it’s a bit politically suspect but also fun (and wildly violent, even amoral), and it certainly looks spectacular, especially the early sequences.
Viva Zapata! (1952, Elia Kazan)
Biopic of the Mexican revolutionary — written by John Steinbeck and with the usual blunt-force didacticism thereby implied — has some strong visual moments and vivid use of locations but is done in completely by Marlon Brando’s ridiculous lead performance, pitched identically to those in his more famous collaborations with Kazan. The politics here are sound enough — they sure beat those of On the Waterfront — but dramatically it’s pretty flabby. Downright crazy now to imagine Hollywood bankrolling such a strongly socialist-leading film; too bad it’s not a better one.
The Volunteer (1944, Michael Powell)
Extremely dry propaganda doc from Powell and Pressburger about a couple of theater people who join up in the Fleet Air Arm and run into each other a few times over the years. The boredom is one thing, sort of expected in this kind of didactic and mostly artless material, but the attempts at humor are really desperate and irritating. Works only as a time capsule; quite a strange outlier in style and substance for its creators.