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.
Two prominent American directors, Clint Eastwood and Gus Van Sant, will compete for the top prize at this year's prestigious Cannes Film Festival, it was announced Wednesday.
Eastwood's suspense thriller Mystic River, which stars Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins, is one of the top contenders for the coveted Palme d'Or, given to the best feature film winner. The film, scheduled for release stateside Oct. 3, 2003, revolves around three childhood friends who are reunited 25 years later when they become linked to a murder investigation.
Good Will Hunting director Van Sant will present Elephant, a film focusing on high school violence.
Also in competition is British director Peter Greenaway's period drama, The Tulse Luper Suitcase, starring J.J. Field and Kathy Bates. The epic tale follows 92 characters, 92 events, and 92 suitcases from the year 1928 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This is the director's third Palme d'Or nomination.
Danish director Lars von Trier, who won the Palme d'Or two years ago for the musical Dancer in the Dark, will show his new thriller Dogville. The film stars Nicole Kidman as a woman on the run who takes refuge in a small town inhabited by an anguished apple grower, his wife and their seven children.
French director Patrice Chereau, actress Meg Ryan and director Steven Soderbergh are in this year's jury.
Celebs expected at this year's festival include Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Lauren Bacall, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves, Monica Bellucci, Toni Collette and James Caan.
The 56th Cannes Film Festival opens May 14 in Paris with Penelope Cruz's new comedy Fanfan la Tulipe, a remake of the 1952 French film starring Gina Lollobrigida.
The French festival also showcases international films out of competition. Warner Bros.' highly anticipated sci-fi sequel The Matrix: Reloaded premieres worldwide May 15 on the festival's second day.
The festival closes on May 25.
Here is the complete list of films in competition:
Les Invasions Barbares, Denys Arcand, Canada
Il Cuore Altrove, Pupi Avati, Italy
Carandiru, Hector Babenco, Brazil
Uzak, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey
Mystic River, Clint Eastwood, United States
The Brown Bunny, Vincent Gallo, United States
The Moab Story/The Tulse Luper Suitcases--Part I, Peter Greenaway, Britain
Shara, Naomi Kawase, Japan
Akarui Mirai, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan
A Cinq Heures de l'Apres-Midi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran
Ce Jour-La, Raoul Ruiz, Switzerland
Father and Son, Alexandre Sokorov, Russia
Dogville, Lars von Trier, Denmark
Elephant, Gus Van Sant, United States
Purple Butterfly, Lu Ye, China
Les Cotelettes, Bertrand Blier, France
La Petite Lili, Claude Miller, France
Swimming Pool, Francois Ozon, France
Les Egares, Andre Techine, France
Tiresia, Bertand Bonello, France
Out of competition:
Le Temps Du Loup, Michael Haneke, France
Vai E Vem, Joao Cesar Monteiro, Portugal
Mansion by the Lake, Lester James Peries, Sri Lanka
The Matrix: Reloaded, Andy and Larry Wachowski, United States
Les Triplettes de Belleville, Sylvain Chomet, France
Qui A Tué Bambi?, Gilles Marchand, France
New York City detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) teams up with Department of Health researcher Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone) to investigate five bizarre deaths. Before long they discover that all the victims died exactly 48 hours after visiting the Web site feardotcom.com. The site itself looks amateurish with rapid-fire images of a strange doorway screaming faces torture tools and indiscernible grainy objects. Users log on to watch a twisted doctor perform autopsies on people--while they're still alive torturing his victims until they beg to be killed. The voyeurs must then interact with a mysterious woman who asks things like "Do you want to hurt me?" She challenges users to find her within two days--or die. Those who don't find her end up suffering whatever gruesome fate they fear most and--this is the best bit--it's brought on by some sort of evil force generated through the computer. Of course curiosity gets the better of them and Mike and Terry log on to the site only to find themselves embroiled in a supernatural violent fight for their lives. If this explanation made sense that's more than we can say for the plot of feardotcom.
Dorff is well cast as Mike Reilly a brash young city police detective whose curious nature gets him into trouble. But the character is too simplistic and underdeveloped to give Dorff much to do. Although we get a little more insight into McElhone's character Terry (we know she has a cat name Benny for example) there isn't much to like or dislike about her. Dorff and McElhone's characters strike up a sort of friendship as the film progresses but there isn't much chemistry between the actors. A couple of the creepier roles in the film are much more entertaining to watch especially Stephen Rea and Michael Sarrazin. Rea plays Alistair Pratt the twisted doctor whose torture victims provide feardotcom.com's "entertainment " while Sarrazin plays Frank Sykes a drunk and washed-up author. It's a shame these two didn't have more screen time.
Director William Malone explains in the production notes for the film that feardotcom offers both a scientific and spiritual explanation for what happens in the film and that it is ultimately up to moviegoers to decide which school of thought they subscribe to. But the film's storyline is so convoluted and contradictory that it's difficult to figure out what question the film is asking let alone find the answer. Even if nothing about the story--or the philosophical questions it purports to ask--makes sense the intense look of the film is enough to keep you watching. Malone bathes the film in murky blue tones and sunlight never even trickles in. Offices are dimly lit and apartments are always dank and dilapidated. It rains day and night. The weird flashes of images presented in this setting are graphic and disturbing making feardotcom a film for the strong of heart--and stomach.