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.
What do you get when a small-time crook gets whacked at the exact same time his baby boy’s born? Yes yet another crime story that’s driven by a quest for vengeance. A straight-A student living in a swanky Connecticut suburb Wilson De Leon Jr. (Rick Gonzalez) knows nothing about his late father. Nor for that fact does he ever wonder why his widowed mother Millie (Wanda De Jesus) insists on moving his family from one town to another at a moment’s notice. Unbeknownst to Wilson and his younger brother Millie’s been on the run since her husband died a bloody death for reasons left unsaid until Illegal Tender’s last bullet is fired. After she’s spotted by one of her pursuers Millie rushes home to pack her family’s bags. Only this time Wilson wants to know what’s going on. Then he decides to stand his ground. Which he does—at least until he comes to his senses and realizes that he’s putting himself and his girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) in harm’s way. Still Wilson’s not ready to let his loved ones be terrorized forever. Despite Millie’s protests Wilson heads off to Puerto Rico to take care of matters once and for all. And Illegal Tender quickly goes from vaguely interesting to boneheaded as soon as Wilson arrives in Puerto Rico. Oh and producer John Singleton deserves to be reprimanded for allowing writer/director Franc Reyes to rip off his own revenge saga Four Brothers. Guess Singleton thought what worked once would work again. How wrong he is. One look at Rick Gonzalez (Coach Carter) and it’s hard to believe he could punch a timecard let alone a thug willing to snap the skinny kid in two. He makes Shia LaBeouf look like Harrison Ford. Then again Gonzalez’s playing a scrawny little momma’s boy who’s all brains and no brawn—at least until Millie’s past catches up with her. So it makes no difference that Gonzalez isn’t physically imposing. The problem is that Gonzalez never comes across as book smart as his character is supposed be. Nor does he display much in the way of street smarts especially when Wilson starts to get his hands dirty. It hardly comes as a surprise to learn that Wilson never questioned how his mother always had huge amounts of cash at her disposal even though she rarely held down a job. And thanks to Gonzalez you never get the sense that Wilson’s ever one step ahead of his father’s killers. On the other hand the tough-as-nails Wanda De Jesus is such a commanding presence that you know immediately she’s capable of breaking the neck of anyone who tries to harm her family. If Quentin Tarantino ever needs another no-nonsense cougar to bust a few skulls he should look no further than De Jesus. Dania Ramirez (The Sopranos) also looks like she could beat the snot out of Gonzalez but all she gets to do is express concern for Wilson’s safety. In his film debut Puerto Rican rapper Tego Calderón lends a little edge to the proceedings as a gangster who stands between Wilson and his quarry. Illegal Tender wants us to believe that Wilson has what it takes to go all Four Brothers on his father’s killers. That would be fine if Illegal Tender took its time transforming Wilson from naïve college student to angel of vengeance. Instead it’s taken for granted that Wilson’s his father’s son that all it takes is a couple of practice shots at some glass bottles to turn a boy into a man. Even then Wilson’s not much of a threat to anyone. This could be overlooked if director Franc Reyes at least gave Illegal Tender some vim and vigor. Instead Illegal Tender lacks urgency even when Millie and her family are fleeing for their lives. Everything falls apart once Reyes unnecessarily shifts the action to Puerto Rico. You expect Wilson to at least jump a few hurdles in his bid to find his father’s killers. But that’s not the case. Doors open quickly and easily for Wilson. Where’s the suspense in that? The motive behind the murder is not revealed until the end but it only will make you shrug your shoulders in apathy. Also after raising the moral implications of living off illegal gains Reyes conveniently brushes aside such a weighty matter in favor of sending mother and son into battle together. Yes Illegal Tender is filled with such warmhearted Mommy and Me moments of bonding. “Sometimes you’ve got to play the only chips you’ve got ” Wilson’s father says minutes before he’s killed. With Illegal Tender Reyes makes a real bad bet with the precious few chips he has and comes up a big loser.