Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
While driving on a moonlit canyon road Los Angelenos Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are attacked by some kind of giant wolf. They escape with their lives but are somehow altered by the accident. Boy are they ever. The career-driven Ellie and scrawny Jimmy suddenly find themselves with super strength and dexterity an undeniable sexual allure to those around them and heighten senses. They can smell human blood--everywhere. Uh oh. Think it's time to get out the sterling silver and melt them down into bullets. Of course Ellie and Jimmy can't deny the changes happening to them and soon find out that their werewolf encounter wasn't necessarily all that random. Still they aren't too keen on feeling the effects as their bodies painfully morph into flesh-ripping werewolves. They decide they have to solve the mystery and break the curse before it completely consumes them. Oh c'mon what's a little curse among friends?
Just like the Scream series Cursed is at least bolstered by a young hip cast even if most of them are wasted. Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has the most fun as the geeky teenager who sort of likes his newfound powers. With his hair all mussed up and sexy Jimmy goes from a nobody in high school and to a hot-ticket item. Apparently if you didn't know this the whole burgeoning werewolf-sexual-attraction thing revolves around changing your hairstyle. While Ellie lets hers down Ricci is unfortunately a bit stiff as the supposedly tempting soon-to-be she-wolf. It's as if the actress knows how weak the script is. Joshua Jackson (so charismatic as Pacey from TV's Dawson's Creek) too seems to be going through the motions as Ellie's mysterious new boyfriend with a deep secret (clue: his hair is perfect). Judy Greer (13 Going on 30) however nearly steals the show chewing up the scenery--literally and figuratively--as a snide public relations agent with a mean jealous streak.
Movies about werewolves on a whole are pretty damn cool. It's all about how the person gets "infected" and slowly transforms from human to werewolf. Of course there's the original classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and then the contemporary ones including An American Werewolf in London and The Howling (we don't count the tepid Wolf). Even Underworld's look at the ongoing feud between werewolves and vampires is at the very least an original idea. So one would think an updated werewolf story would be right up the alley of horror master Wes Craven and his Scream partner Kevin Williamson. It's not. Cursed's main problem is the jejune and derivative script. Wannabe hipster Williamson who also created the terminally chic Dawson's Creek tries to infuse the film with his usual twisty aren't-I-great-at-writing-cool-teen-speak? style. But this time around it only falls flat. Craven makes up for it a little with well-placed scare tactics and slick special effects but Cursed can't quite measure up to its werewolf predecessors.
November 15, 2002 4:05am EST
Sascha Petrosevitch (Steven Seagal) is an undercover FBI agent posing as an international car thief. When Sascha and his partner in crime Nick Frazier (Ja Rule) get busted by the Feds Sascha agrees to serve time at the newly refurbished Alcatraz in order to keep his cover. The prison happens to house a criminal by the name of Lester (Bruce Weitz) who robbed an armored vehicle of some $200 million worth of gold that has never been recovered. A group of mercenaries calling themselves "the 49ers" decide it would be a good idea to break into the prison and somehow force Lester to divulge the booty's whereabouts. When their plan backfires they begin taking hostages--including Justice June McPherson (Linda Thorson). To save the day Sascha must rally the inmates against the commando force. Half Past Dead is a stock actioner complete with lame story flashy stunts and lots of folks pointing guns at one another. It is also a typical Seagal pic so if you have ever watched any--including the Under Siege movies--you've seen this one too.
Once again Seagal (Exit Wounds) is the archetypal defender but instead of portraying a brooding silent hero he simply comes across as bored. Or maybe this is just Seagal's rendition of what happens to a man after he flatlines for 22 minutes. Seagal's partner in crime Nick is played by rapper-turned-actor Ja Rule (The Fast and the Furious). The two actors barely have any chemistry and the "brotherly" relationship they talk about incessantly never comes through on screen. Morris Chestnut (Like Mike) plays Donny aka 49er One the leader of the mercenaries. It was a refreshing change to see Chestnut--who has played nice-guy roles in a throng of romantic comedies such as The Brothers Two Can Play That Game and The Best Man--portraying a sociopath with absolutely no redeeming qualities. He does it charmingly well. As Chestnut's fellow commando 49er Six Nia Peeples manages to create a character that despite her tiny stature is convincingly intimidating. Tony Plana is exceptional as the bad-ass prison warden El Fuego; it's too bad his character has such a small role in the film.
With this movie actor/screenwriter Don Michael Paul who appeared in a bevy of little-known films in the late '80s and early 90's makes his directorial debut. It's obvious that Paul put more focus and energy into the film's visuals than into the story. Half Past Dead's new Alcatraz setting is ultra slick complete with state-of-the-art execution chambers yet still retains the dark and gritty feel that a prison should. But while Paul has chosen all the "right" ingredients to build an action flick he hasn't put enough thought into the story's logistics. In one scene for example Seagal parachutes out of a helicopter that's only about 200 feet above sea level. It's hard to buy into a stunt that is so far from plausible. Furthermore the proliferation of buddy action movies has simply grown tiresome. Like its many predecessors Half Past Dead tries to draw laughs and create chemistry by pairing two opposite characters and while that worked for Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour it fails miserably between Seagal and Ja Rule. Viewers will only cringe when Nick tries to teach Sascha the Ebonics version of all right ("aight").