Saturday, January 21, 2017

#589: Bambi

Directed by: DAVID HAND
1942, TSPDT Rank #568

It takes all kinds of movies to make a list of the 1,000 Greatest Films. Because of this, violent Hong Kong action films can easily sit alongside the early animated features of Disney Studios on this blog. Bambi isn't the first of these early Disney features that I've covered - Fantasia and Dumbo both received reviews in the early days of the blog, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio are among the many films from the TSPDT list which I have seen, but which for whatever reason have flown under the radar of this blog (more on these "undocumented" films to follow in the near future).

Bambi, however, is a film which I had not seen since I was very young. Now that I have more knowledge of how it fits into the larger picture of Disney's early film history, it seems primarily like an attempt to import some of the more pastoral combinations of image and music seen in Fantasia (released two years earlier) into a simple narrative framework. From what I remember, connections could also be made some of the more surreal sequences of Fantasia and Dumbo (the first Disney film to be released in the wake of Fantasia), but in Bambi the focus is much less on narrative and more on creating sequences of pastoral beauty. Parts of the film actually seem like they might have been originally developed for Fantasia before someone had the idea that they could be developed into a standalone feature.

What narrative there is here follows a young deer named Bambi, as he grows up and comes of age, learning the facts of life (and death) in the process. There's also a running line of commentary on the intrusive and destructive effect of humans on the animal world. This theme is expressed in a much more blunt fashion than the Disney/Pixar films of today, with the death of a parent being shown as a normal occurrence for the animals who inhabit this cruel world. While this point of view is sometimes taken to a melodramatic extreme, it is effective nevertheless, and makes the story compelling enough to hold the viewer's attention for an hour and change. However, the film's primary attribute is its incredibly rich hand-drawn animation - which has become possibly even more impressive with time, and the advent of the computer animation era.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#588: The Killer

Directed by: JOHN WOO
1989, TSPDT Rank #635

The Hong Kong action films of John Woo are in a category of their own, featuring a heady blend of gratuitous gunplay, operatic drama, and screwball comedy which is unparalleled in the action genre. I'm not generally a big fan of action films, but Woo's are unique and audacious enough to keep me interested most of the time - although this preference still tends to get in the way of my enjoyment somewhat. Regardless, The Killer is one of the most renowned of Woo's films, and it shows his style in what is possibly its most distilled state. All of the aforementioned elements of Woo's formula are present in full force throughout this story of a world-weary assassin (played by the ever-present Chow Yun-Fat) and his attempts to go straight, while helping a beautiful singer, whose eyes he accidentally injured during a nightclub shootout, regain her eyesight in the process. Of course, the plot gets much more complicated from there, as Chow is targeted by both the triads he works for and the Hong Kong police after deciding to perform one last hit. Platonic bonds and codes of honor between men are always important themes for Woo, and they are particularly emphasized here - as Chow forms strong bonds with members of both enemy groups over the course of the film. As usual in Woo's films, the philosophical ramifications of these bonds and the symbolism which backs them up (represented, in this case, by a church filled with countless candles and huge statues of the Virgin Mary) are just as important as the gunfights. However, the plot is still propelled primarily by its high-voltage action scenes - with gunfire dialogue for punctuation and equally extravagant doses of masculine melodrama to lend meaning to the action. Woo's filmmaking craft and skill in staging action scenes is impeccable, and his influences on action films from all over the world can be seen throughout this film, as well as his other early works (Hard Boiled is particularly recommended, if you like what you see here).