Was I in a romantic mood? I don’t know, but the 2005 Project churns along with three movies about love, and the many ways in which it can be complicated.
Although I’ve always found ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to be a really good movie, there’s always been something that keeps me from outright loving it.
I don’t know what it is, because I do believe this is the perfect update of a classic, old-fashioned forbidden romance for the 21st century. It is not really trying to make a political statement by using the cowboy image and applying it to homosexual rights and relationships, but rather making a political statement by virtue of the inner life of its own characters.
This movie’s power lives within its characters, and so does its conflict. The movie’s biggest success is that it is not a story about star-crossed lovers being kept down by society, but the story of two men (and Heath Ledger’s character especially) who are the worst enemy of their own relationship. Ennis Del Mar just wants to be a “regular” guy, with a wife and family. He is a product of the society he grew up in, and can’t help himself in his tragedy. “Love is a force of nature” was the movie’s tagline, and it’s surprisingly loyal to the film’s themes.
And yes, it is incredibly well made. Heath Ledger’s performance in particular is beyond moving, and Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography nostalgic in its distant elegance. What, then, keeps me from loving the movie? I think there’s something about the pace of the film (compromised of mostly short scenes and sequences) that is the issue here. Because other than that, I can’t really find anything else that I don’t like.
The title, as it appears in the opening credits, makes it seem like Burton is the protagonist of his own movie. Considering how much ‘Corpse Bride’ follows his patented visual style, I guess he kind of is.
Like most Burton films, though, ‘Corpse Bride’ starts out with a pretty cool premise, and doesn’t really know where to go with it except to the most conventional places imaginable. It’s curious, isn’t it, that one of the most idiosyncratic directors when it comes to visual design tends to so often go for traditionally and predictably structured screenplays.
Being familiar with Burton’s style means not being surprised by ‘Corpse Bride’, which houses a bunch of clever gags and a couple of lovely scenes (mostly when characters play the piano), but also falls in the trap of being as much like the animated movies that have come before it as it can. Not necessarily in its morbid fascinations, but in its structure. The music by Danny Elfman is forgettable, as are most of the supporting characters. In short, ‘Corpse Bride’ is a neat idea that the filmmakers didn’t know how to stretch into a feature.
It’s worth noting that this is one of the first features animated by Laika, one of the best animation studios working today. The animation is a little rigid compared to her later iterations, but not less beautiful (it might have more to do with the design of the characters than the quality of the work). Visually speaking, even if a little familiar thanks to the Burton connection, ‘Corpse Bride’ looks very good. Luckily for Laika, they later found better scripts to work on.
We all have our favorite directors. We follow them anywhere, no matter how bizarre their next project sounds, and we often (but not always) forgive and forget their mistakes. Some of my favorites, like Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers, are loves that many cinephiles will share. A much more singular love of mine, I’ve found out, is my admiration for the work of Joe Wright. I don’t seize to be amazed by the exciting twists and turns Wright’s career has taken, especially when most filmmakers couldn’t have gone anywhere but down after bursting into the scene with a first feature as perfect as his.
Wright’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is a triumph. It is the rare literary adaptation that is actually excited to be cinema, as it looks at the world around it with the same curiosity as its protagonist. And Wright’s cinematic “tricks” are not here because of edgy impatience, but merely in order to best serve the material, communicating through images and not only with words (something that most novels forget when they make their way to the screen). I simply can’t resist the tableaus Wright (and cinematographer Ronan Osin) create with the moving camera, and how pages of the novel are translated into a single image.
Lizzie Bennett (played wonderfully by Keira Knightley) is one of the greatest female heroines, and ‘Pride & Prejudice’ one of the finest novels by one of the finest writers ever. You would have to be a huge idiot to screw this movie up, so I’m incredibly thankful that someone as inspired and passionate as Wright got to make it. Some of the most impressionistic images in this movie could be described as outright delicious. I don’t care that not many people are as into Wright as I am, I am more than happy to have him all to myself.