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.
DiCaprio spent several hours with Cartha DeLoach at the 91-year-old's home in South Carolina while he was researching his role in J. Edgar, and the two men discussed the FBI director's sexuality at length.
DeLoach, who was part of the team which investigated President John F. Kennedy's death in the 1960s, tells USA Today, "I made it very clear that I never saw any evidence of it (homosexuality) whatsoever. I travelled with him (Hoover), I ate in his home and he in mine."
But the one-time deputy FBI director's concerns appear not to have swayed DiCaprio and director Clint Eastwood from portraying Hoover as a closeted gay man with deep feelings for another top aide, Clyde Tolson.
DeLoach insists Hoover and Tolson were nothing more than good friends: "I knew Clyde Tolson to be Mr. Hoover's companion and best friend. When you are somebody like Mr. Hoover, I guess you need somebody to talk to."
But not everyone associated with Hoover and the FBI are as accepting of the film's version of events when it comes to the homosexual undertones of the new film, although current bureau boss Mike Kortan insists both Eastwood and DiCaprio did their homework and spent hours chatting to agents past and present.
He says, "We provided information so that their story could be accurate. What they did with it, as with any production, has been entirely in their hands."
William Branon, chairman of The J. Edgar Hoover Foundation and officials at the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI have fired off letters to Eastwood expressing their concerns about the misrepresentation of an American hero, with Branon stating, "It would be a grave injustice and monumental distortion to proceed with such a depiction based on a completely unfounded and spurious assertion."
And William Baker, a former agent and Hoover Foundation vice president, tells USA Today "We don't want to support something not based in fact."
It's been a long time since John Lennon was gunned down in front of apartment building in New York City and even longer since Richard Nixon held office but U.S. vs. John Lennon focuses on how the then U.S. president tried to pull out all stops to discredit the famous Beatle and get him thrown out of the country. Ironically although three decades old this story seems like a fairly timely indictment on the Bush administration as it looks at how right-wing fanatics label anti-war protestors as un-American even though free speech is what this country is founded on as Lennon points out. Nixon's henchman J. Edgar Hoover tried drumming up all sorts of smut on Lennon. He and Yoko Ono were bugged followed threatened and nearly deported. Along the way Lennon became a bit paranoid and myopic even as he was opening his life to the press and offering interviews while in bed. Some of the more important pundits during the Vietnam War era are trotted out to give some perspective. Injured war veteran Ron Kovic Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein protestor Angela Davis writer Gore Vidal and a mellow Bobby Seale are among those who talk about what the world was like in the 1970s the end of the hippie era and the crackdown by the government. For the conservative side the only voice heard is G. Gordon Liddy Nixon’s former White House staff who comes across as creepy and unsympathetic and even criticizes the Kent State shooting victims as students who got in the way and should have known what was coming. Some of the most fascinating moments are the footage from Ono’s private vault showing Lennon as a passionate and often angry guy who was alternately confused and amused by anger directed at him for preaching peace. Filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld offer a very biased viewpoint as they play heavily on the anti-war images and how it is relevant today. They don’t really explore any of Lennon's troubles with the break-up of the Beatles or the criticism of Ono which were going on around the same time. No U.S. vs. John Lennon is about one thing and one thing only: Lennon’s public fight to keep his visa and remain in the U.S. while exercising his right to protest. The documentary is illuminating timely and almost as frightening as Al Gore's global warming Inconvenient Truth. There’s Lennon on the Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas shows as well as footage of the ex-Beatle being attacked by a reporter which he handled with a bemused calmness. Although it isn't as dire or as apocalyptic U.S. vs. John Lennon is just as important. Lennon ultimately did give peace a chance.