Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing
When it comes to judging the quality of most fantasy films, the first question I tend to ask is how the movie operates as an immersive piece of world-building. Surely, such a question could apply to countless films outside that particular genre. But with a fantasy film, it is particularly important for me to feel like I am being immersed in an exciting and fully-realized world that strains, if not for complete plausibility, then for credulity of some kind. I don’t exactly need the mechanics of the world dictated to me, but I at least want to feel as if there is a living, breathing universe expanding well beyond the borders of what the camera is able to show me. Star Wars had this sense of immersion. Harry Potter had it as well. Even the Sundance hit Beasts of the Southern Wild, a much smaller and cheaper movie than any of the aforementioned titles, has this in spades.
Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders’ first film, does not have this sense of immersion. It is a decent-looking movie, sporting appropriately dank production values and scant moments of the kind of high-gloss sleekness that only super-expensive Hollywood blockbusters can provide, but you get a sense that hardly any thought was brought into fleshing out this fantastical world beyond what the camera actually captures. It doesn’t help that most of the actors seem rather bored with the characters they are playing as well; it’s been proven that Chris Hemsworth is a far more charismatic screen presence what is suggested here, and Kristen Stewart doesn’t exactly prove there is more to her than what we see in those vampire-laden chastity commercials. Fortunately, the one performance that sticks out is also the one that counts the most: Charlize Theron clearly relishes her role as the Evil Queen, and she manages to find a sense of fun and flamboyance otherwise missing from what is essentially a watered-down Lord of the Rings aping.
Grade: B- | 1st Viewing
Though my letter grade for Ridley Scott’s sharply polarizing Alien prequel is nearly a full letter grade lower than what Alex gave in his review, I have to say I agree with him on a lot of the points he makes. It’s a truly singular vision crammed with visual effects that stun both on a technical and on an aesthetic level. It’s also laudable for the big, existential questions it raises. I agree with Alex’s camp – that is to say, the coalition of Prometheus defenders – that there is something audacious and respectable about seeing a mainstream movie unafraid to thoroughly enrage its core fan-base in its assertion that answers aren’t really all that necessary. For my money, no other movie from 2012 that we’ve seen has provoked such sharp, interesting conversations. Scott forces his audience to reconcile his movie’s perceived shortcomings with our desire to see answers, and it’s done with a kind of boldness I can respect.
Having said that, I ultimately do share the dissatisfaction so many detractors feel about the dramatic workings of Prometheus. There are far too many characters, and too few of them are given a chance to make an emotional landing with the audience. Charlize Theron actually gives a superior performance in that mediocre Snow White movie than she does here, and I honestly did not even realize who Guy Pearce played in the movie until I saw his name in the end credits (sorry, I didn’t see the TED Talk parody until after seeing this). What’s more, did anybody else notice how Idris “Stringer Bell” Elba is charged here essentially to play an intergalactic African-American chauffeur? Could somebody please remind me how long it’s been since Driving Miss Daisy came out?
The wafer-thin characterizations strongly dilute the philosophical value of what Scott and screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts work toward with this movie. The only character who really seemed to work, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Michael Fassbender’s serene robot David. His character is filmed with the most intrigue and the most affection and, as a result, it leaves the viewer the most inclined to connect the dots between his actions and his cryptically sinister motivations.
There is plenty else to admire about Prometheus on a strictly experiential level, but a lot seems to be missing nonetheless. I can’t really intend that as a compliment. Still, considering how strongly people are discussing it, I can’t help but shake the feeling that we are about five years, 30 minutes of extra footage, and one Trademark Ridley Scott Director’s Cut away from beholding a modern sci-fi masterpiece in Prometheus.
Grade: A- | 1st Viewing for Each
This is a cheat, of course, as neither Veep nor Girls are actually movies. But considering how their respective creators both broke out in the movie world somewhat recently – and taking into account the results of last week’s poll – I’d feel remiss if I didn’t spend some time talking about the two incredibly worthwhile – HBO comedies that recently wrapped their freshman seasons.
Veep, created by Armondo Iannucci, is a delightfully cynical beast of an office comedy whose inspiration ranges everywhere from The Office, The West Wing and Iannucci’s ultra-profane and truly hysterical 2009 political comedy In the Loop. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as the eponymous Vice President Selina Meyer, a woman both fueled by sheer ambition and drive, yet it is all dampened by two key factors: the perfunctory essence of her constitutionally mandated job and her utter lack of competence. Throughout the seven-episode first season of Veep we follow Meyer and her staffers as they trudge through the tedium of non-partisan legislation, gaffes that severely affect public opinion and misadventures inspired by a kind of dysfunction and solipsism that could only come from the D.C. bureaucracy. The cast is stellar, the writing is sharp and the melancholy yet cynical implications of its comedy are scathing.
Girls, the incredibly divisive show from Tiny Furniture auteur Lena Dunham, shares a common denominator with Veep in the barbed way it depicts people trying to blaze their own paths in life. But given the circumstances of the main characters at the center of its show – they are four flawed, only semiconscious beneficiaries of white privilege – there is an undeniable complexity to the way the show projects their dilemmas. That complexity has frustrated a lot of viewers; many dismissed Girls from the get-go for starring nothing but “unlikeable” characters – whatever that means – and others have questioned the value of tuning in week-to-week to watch a quartet of wealthy white girls talk about their wealthy white girl problems. While I don’t deny the show has a major race problem – New York City has never looked less diverse – I really enjoy how complicated each of the show’s leads has proven to be. I can hate Hanna, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna sometimes, but they never, ever feel sub-human or inauthentic. I need to give it more thought, but Girls has a legitimate chance of supplanting Parks and Recreation as my favorite comedy of this TV season.