Notes from the back row 

Moving on to comic books and hip hop

I’d like to start off by addressing all those people out there whining about how the Oscars turned out – Brokeback Mountain, a dragged out love story with a gimmick, didn’t deserve to win best picture so stop talking about how it was "robbed" and get on with your lives. I’m not saying Crash was overly exceptional either, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. In any case, you Brokeback fans should be in for a good year, Hollywood is running low on ideas so look for gay cop movies, gay robber movies and lesbian astronaut pics to start popping up later in the year. Stick with what works – that’s the Hollywood way.

What’s working these days is remakes, biopics and comic book adaptations, and this week the good old Village 8 is debuting the latter with the Wachowski Bros. produced, anti-establishment, thinking man’s action flick V for Vendetta. Based on a mid-80s comic book by the legendary Allen Moore, V is a Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing terrorist fighting a futuristic, totalitarian, Big Brother-esque English government that kills gays, Muslims, and deviants and is really mean to everyone else.

Natalie Portman, stumbling through an English accent but still very good, stars as V’s reluctant sidekick and together the two swashbuckling terrorists make for quite an entertaining, thought-provoking action/adventure flick. The original comic was written in response to the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the nuclear era, and the decline of personal freedom, but the ideas remain pertinent today and there are some good jabs at the current state of our buddies to the south as well.

Speaking of Americans, many of them have their red, white and blue panties in a bunch about how V for Vendetta glorifies terrorism but actually the film references just about every totalitarian regime in history, including Bush, and suggests that today’s culture of fear – built on war, media manipulation, and intolerance – is a vicious cycle forged in human nature. Just history repeating.

In any case, V for Vendetta is as good a comic adaptation as has come along in a while and although I could have used a tiny bit more action, the overall message is quite clear – people should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.

On a lighter note, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party , one of the best "concert" films I’ve ever seen, also opens Friday at the Village 8. In September 2004, the hilarious Chappelle throws a block party in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy projects and invites all his favorite hip hop acts to perform. The film, directed by French music video genius Michel Gondrey ( Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) , cuts concert footage with interviews, stand-up and hilarious segments of Chappelle walking around his hometown of Dayton, Ohio inviting people (and a marching band) to his concert. The music is superb, featuring performances from Mos Def, The Roots, Dead Prez, Kayne West, Erykah Badu, the reunited Fugees and more.

Chappelle himself is as hilarious and endearing as ever and the film aptly shows just how much fun he has with every situation. People are talking about Block Party as hip hop’s Woodstock but in fact it’s more of hip hop’s Last Waltz (the Scorcese-directed concert film about The Band). Rap music is today’s most popular form but it’s mostly all the same sex/violence/jewelry drivel that doesn’t reflect even the gangsta rap of the early ’90s let alone hip hop in general.

If you’re a fan of Chappelle’s or real hip hop, this film is a nostalgic throwback to the old school. If you’re unfamiliar, it’ll give you a newfound respect for the music and the culture around it.

AT VILLAGE 8 March 17-23: Dave Chappelle’s Block Party; She’s the Man; V For Vendetta; Shaggy Dog; Aquamarine; 16 Blocks; Eight Below; The Hills Have Eyes; Failure to Launch.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE March 17-23: When A Stranger Calls; Freedomland.

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