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.
Cooked up in the head of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) comes the movie in which he makes his directorial debut. Without Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze sifting through the maze this time Kaufman himself weaves this crazy quilt with consummate skill. In other words Synecdoche New York is just as successfully quirky humane and head scratching as all the others in the Kaufman ouerve. To sum up the plot succinctly is impossible but it centers on a stage director and hypochondriac Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who trades in his suburban life with wife Adele (Catherine Keener) daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) and regional theatrical work in Schenectady for a chance at Broadway. He puts together a cast (resembling those in his own dream world) and brings them to a Manhattan warehouse being designed as a replica of the city outside. As the world he is creating inside these walls expands so does the focus of his own life and relationships. As the years literally fly by he gets deeper into his theatrical self which soon starts to merge with his own increasingly pathetic reality. Whatever you make of the tale Kaufman is telling here the casting could not be better or more suited to the quirky material. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers up a tour-de-force and is simply superb playing all the tics and foibles of the deeply disturbed Caden. His early scenes in his “normal” home are wonderfully alive with all his phobias and hypochondria in view. Later we literally watch this man disintegrate as his master creation overwhelms him. Hoffman seems to fully understand the mental trauma of a man running as far from his own realities as he possibly can. Catherine Keener as always is right on target as his wife Adele. She has a knack for taking what seems like tiny moments and making them define exactly who this woman is. Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentor to Caden’s daughter is always fascinating to watch and plays Maria with an ounce of irony. Tom Noonan playing the actor portraying Caden in the play is the perfect doppelganger and delightfully adds to Caden’s confused state. The all-pro trio of Michelle Williams as Caden’s new wife Claire; Samantha Morton as the irresistible assistant Hazel; and Hope Davis as Caden’s self-absorbed therapist add greatly to the merry mix. It’s nice to watch Charlie Kaufman seize control of his own work. In this instance he’s really the only one who can deliver us his Fellini-esque vision. Centering it all on the theatrical director’s weird universe Synecdoche does seem like it might be Kaufman’s own take on Fellini’s 8 ½ or even Woody Allen’s paean to that film Stardust Memories. Let’s just say we know most of it must exist somewhere inside Kaufman. Early domestic scenes could have been played flat but the novice director moves the camera around skillfully enough to make us immediately engaged in Caden’s world. Second half of the film set in the phantasmagoric warehouse is a stunning tapestry of scenes from Kaufman’s singularly fertile imagination. It’s nice to note he’s well equipped with the basic tools a director needs for this type of challenging material. Overall his film is a surprising confounding visual feast -- a dream/nightmare come to life and then spinning out of control.
Weinstein might ditch Disney
Walt Disney Co. and its Miramax Films unit, which is run by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, are expected to meet this week to discuss letting Harvey Weinstein start a production company, while his brother would remain at Disney to make movies, Reuters reports. In a recent New York Times article, Reuters reports the newspaper cites several unidentified people involved in the talks, who say the agreement being negotiated would give Bob Weinstein a four-year contract with Disney, including a small staff and a $300 million to $350 million annual budget to make four to six movies under his Dimension Films banner. Harvey Weinstein would then become an independent producer, who would secure financing for movies to be distributed by Bob Weinstein, the Times article continued. Disney might also license the Miramax name back to Harvey Weinstein, but only for movie projects. Sources told the Times that the two sides still have big issues to work out, but the progress shows that both sides recognize the importance of maintaining a successful relationship and would like to reach an agreement before Disney's fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
Overdose cited as cause of Douglas death
The death of Eric Douglas, the youngest son of Oscar-winning actor Kirk Douglas and brother to Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, was caused by an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription tranquilizers and pain killers, authorities told AP. Douglas, 46, was found dead inside a Manhattan apartment building July 6. Eric Douglas had a history of substance abuse and had spent time in jail and rehab clinics.
Lawsuit brewing over Shyamalan's Village
Publishing giant Simon & Schuster Inc. is reviewing its legal options against The Walt Disney Co. and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan over similarities between a children's book they published and the film The Village, a spokeswoman for the publisher told AP Monday. Apparently, the film's plot and surprise ending parallel Margaret Peterson Haddix's first book, Running Out of Time, published in 1995, in which adults living in a bucolic 19th century town keep the same secret from their children, and a plucky tomboy journeys through dangerous woods to get medicine. Haddix said she optioned the book twice--once to Viacom Inc.-owned Nickelodeon, which allowed the option to expire in May 2003 without making a film. She saw The Village last week but declined to discuss her opinion of the film. "Let's just say that I saw the same similarities that other people have pointed out," she told AP. "It's certainly an interesting situation," Haddix said. "I'm just examining what my options are." In a statement, Disney and Shyamalan's Blinding Edge Pictures said they "believe these claims to be meritless," AP reports.
Rick James' funeral to take place in Los Angeles
Funeral services have been announced for Rick James, who was found dead Friday of unknown causes. A public viewing will be held Wednesday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Calif., and a memorial service will be held there Thursday. "Rick wanted everyone who loved him to be with him at the end and to celebrate his life," Sujata Murthy, his record label Universal's spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.
Recent death, health problems plague musicians
Tony Mottola, 86, a guitarist who played with Frank Sinatra and on NBC's The Tonight Show over the course of a 50-year career, died Monday of complications from double pneumonia and stroke. Meanwhile, William Lee Golden of The Oak Ridge Boys is recovering from a mild heart attack, the group's publicist told AP. Golden, 65, was traveling with the country group Saturday near Wausau, Wis., when he fell ill and checked into an area hospital, publicist Sandy Brokaw said Monday. The singer is expected to make a full recovery in four to six weeks, Brokaw told AP. Same goes for former Eagles bassist Randy Meisner, 58, who co-wrote and sang the rock group's classic "Take It to the Limit." He was hospitalized Friday for chest pains, his manager said but is now "resting comfortably" and "not experiencing any pain." Then there's soul veteran Ronald Isley, the lead singer with the Isley Brothers, who suffered a minor stroke but hopes to resume performing as soon as possible, a spokeswoman for his record label told AP. Isley, 63, felt unwell while walking along a street in London last Friday, checked into a local hospital for a few days, and has since returned to his home in St. Louis, Mo., said the spokeswoman.