Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quick Takes: "Bambi", "Detachment", "Mirror Mirror", "Bourne Ultimatum"

"Bambi" (1st Viewing)
Directed by David Hand

Less than two weeks past my 25 Greatest Films of All Time list, and I'm already reconsidering certain selections. For example, I suspect next year will see a marginal decrease for "The Illusionist" in lieu of its place being taken up by this more seasoned of animated delights. It's not to say "Bambi" decreases Sylvain Chomet's recent masterwork in any degree, but I can only admit a "Greatest of All Time" list is still a work in progress for me. There are blind spots to be filled, and I can't even begin to comprehend that this was one of them for so long. Who hasn't seen "Bambi", right? While I do have faint memories of childhood, they don't stand the test of time as well as recent experiences.

Something that strikes you in the first moments of the film is how layered the illustrations of these woods are, beyond simple cardboard cutout movements. The way the trees move as perspective changes is a thing of extreme beauty that no other traditional animation Disney flick has quite achieved. As years progressed, the composition of animated pictures has become very stationary and simple, whereas in "Bambi" so much is moving with the action. There's a big to-do in the first five minutes of the film that has all the animals in motion. It brings us into this graceful world with such vim and life. In replacement of overt magic, Disney has given us a more natural wonder to behold.

Beneath all this is a rather astounding commentary, not about conservation of the forests or wildlife, but more solidly about preservation of our peaceful world. This adaptation of a German novel came out at a time of conflict and senseless war, and it's rather likely American cinema's most profound message to the war-mongering factions of the world. The imagery of a cold and bitter snow as the news of Bambi's mother arrives hits as powerfully as that of a fire laying siege to the forest that these characters call home. "Bambi" has a nobility and compassion like no other film of its time did, and I only wish I'd seen it in time to place it high up on my list. 

"Detachment" (1st Viewing)
Directed by Tony Kaye

It's been a very long while since I saw "American History X", and all my memory of it has strained to "Edward Norton was great in that". Truthfully, not a lot about Tony Kaye's direction has lasted with me, and heading into "Detachment" I knew that the lead performance would be the centerpiece of the film. Indeed I was right, since Adrien Brody is easily the intense standout of the film, hitting notes of deep doubt, anxiety, rage, and aching, self-destructive passion for his calling. It's something that calls out for admiration, but nonetheless is subject to an 100 minutes hammering that renders most of its ideas repetitive and cliche.

Cliche is not necessarily a bad thing in relation to all cinema, since it certainly did no misfortunes to "Avatar" in its time. But "Detachment" is cliche in itself, and not simply in relation to all films about the public school system. It's nothing at all new to say that education is a heavy problem in America, and there are several films that say everything that's being said here, only with more precision. An entire all-star ensemble is utterly wasted with no dimension to their characters. The film goes over plot arcs that are painfully interjecting, like a long stint with a vague prostitute, or your requisite suicide attempt. "Detachment" may have made a strong one-hour CBS special, but as film it's drawn out to an unmotivated degree. It also displays more close-up reaction shots than the entire rest of the year in cinema combined, none of which offers anything remotely worth saying.

"Mirror Mirror" (2nd Viewing)
Directed by Tarsem Singh

It will confound me for a very long time, I fear, that so few people are embracing this piece of extreme visual wonder and impish glee. I found myself turning so fixedly on the costumes on second viewing, and just being floored with how they're not only gorgeous, absolutely lunatic, but also so character specific. The progression of Snow White from wearing pink, to gold, to white, to blue says so much of her progression, and it helps that Lily Collins also progresses along with them. The specifics of colour can be seen most especially in a village scene, where there's an extreme contrast to Snow White's golden cloak and the villagers' colourless rags. But even Nathan Lane's Brighton is wearing the same colours as the villagers, showing how much a prisoner he is, even in service of the Queen.

Even the statement of how stupid and ridiculous the screenplay is doesn't seem to hold much weight in the face of such magnificent wit, though it may the inflection of the actors that makes it pass with such sprightliness. Armie Hammer's Prince Alcott's continued misadventures and manipulations could be seen as demeaning, but there's something delicious about a handsomely masculine prince being made such a fool of. What romances do you remember beginning with a naked Prince being rescued by the princess in the woods? None, because "Mirror Mirror" has more original ideas than people give it credit for. It refashions the classic fairy tale in a way that reinforces morally upright themes while giving way to new commentary. 

"The Bourne Ultimatum" (2nd Viewing)
Directed by Paul Greengrass

How come it feels like Matt Damon has gone away for some time? He's been around with winning performances in "The Informant!", "Green Zone", "True Grit", and "Margaret", and yet it feels like he's been on leave. It might just be that he hasn't yet gotten a role nearly as dynamic as what he got with Jason Bourne. The franchise has come under investigation recently in the wake of Tony Gilroy's retuning with Jeremy Renner in the lead, but "The Bourne Ultimatum" really exposes how many interesting directions Gilroy opted out of in favor of what he instead chose. Like any Bourne film, it may just start out as an action ride, but it goes on to being a lot more than just that.

While watching the film I had short conversation on the film's action, with a friend stating that, like "Quantum of Solace", everything goes too fast. That's always what strikes me as so propulsive in the film, is that everything shoots by at such extreme speeds with such extreme urgency. It's as if it's all happening just two inches away from your face. What's more is that the murders aren't minimized by this pace, but really do take an emotional toll. "Bourne Ultimatum" also benefits from one of the most devastating and cathartic endings in modern action cinema. I'm sorry, but how can you honestly tell me everything is not tied up with that? Matt Damon was wise not to continue on without Paul Greengrass, but even that shouldn't have killed "Legacy". Isn't the direction of a non-Damon follow-up obvious? Why didn't they follow Edgar Ramirez's character? Sometimes it's just better to hire from within.

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