Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I don't really feel like going into all of the depressingly misogynist criticism of Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls--the show whose humor you apparently can't criticize without talking about whether Lena Dunham is physically attractive--but I've really been enjoying it very much. I decided to take a look at a feature Dunham wrote, directed and starred in that's sort of a "proto-Girls." I'm just going to be honest: I've been sitting here for a while now trying to delineate my feelings about this movie, but instead I'm just going to direct you to read this great essay about the film, because it says everything I'm feeling about it. ***

So, it's a comedy, or...? **

A Chilly Willy cartoon. It suffers from the lack of money that was being given to animation in those days, but I do love the sight of Chilly Willy eating flapjacks. **

This one frustrated me, if only because there's so much in here that's so good and so much in here that's so ordinary and unfocused. This latest version of the Snow White tale remembers that its origins lie in old Northern folklore and darkness, but it also manages to find a comfortable balance between its bloody, symbolic origins and its Disneyfied, fairy tale aspects. At its best moments, Snow White and the Huntsman recalls epic fantasy and creates perfect scenes of fatalistic beauty (even when it's borrowing heavily from Miyazaki or 80s fantasy flicks). It doesn't get lost in a silly love triangle, but instead tells a story of survival, honor, and strength as a contest between two women who represent only slightly different ideas of power. Charlize Theron plays Queen Ravenna, whose magic keeps her young and who believes that a woman's strength comes from an almost weaponized beauty. Kristen Stewart, as Snow White, is the one destined to overthrow her. One of the things I liked is the commentary itself on notions of beauty; that though Queen Ravenna is physically beautiful, Snow White's heart is what will overpower her--that it's not about Snow White being physically fairer than her, but about her strength, her kindness, her bravery, and her ability to inspire others. What's unfortunate about the film is that it takes moments of great beauty, great special effects, great subtlety, and puts them in the hands of filmmakers who seem uncertain of what they want their film to be. What could have been a great epic is all too often happy with the ordinary. When Snow White gives a speech that inspires men to follow her into battle, it's dull and thudding. The following battle is by the numbers. The third act should be a culmination of the extraordinary second act, and instead it's mostly a letdown. The final battle between Snow White and Ravenna is arbitrary, except for one great moment of character as the two regard each other, when the artifice is all stripped away and genuine emotions are on the surface--there's a personal cost to Snow White here, and the film sort of ignores it for an ending that feels more like the whole enterprise just stopped. It's maddening. There's a real potential fantasy masterpiece in here, but it gets lost. Chris Hemsworth brings a lot of necessary liveliness to it (and just when the film threatens to become unrelenting), while Charlize Theron does what she can with a role that requires more gravitas and a director who seems to not be interested in achieving it. For what it's worth, I think Kristen Stewart is perfectly cast (she's willing to take a lot of shit physically in movies that aren't as one-dimensional as Twilight), but the movie isn't confident enough to just let her be a quiet, thoughtful, three-dimensional character (which she is in her best moments); too often, it feels like her agency has to come with the price of making her less complex. Really, the movie's entire problem is that it sets up a story that seems much more deep and thoughtful than it's ultimately interested in being. Like I said, frustrated. ***, because it gets so much right. But oh, what might have been...

1 comment:

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Longest Yard played ALOT during the early days of pay tv and I always loved it.

I am so glad that you choose to feature Chilly Willies' cartoon as an equal to any film. Chilly is the Orson Welles of cartoon characters.