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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
S10E9: Holy over-the-top drama. Last night was a long episode. Granted, group week is usually my favorite because it’s when everyone’s crazy starts to come out, and boy did it ever. The folks at Idol flipped the usual group week antics upside down. When students of the show got ahead of the game by forming groups during the first round of auditions, dreaming up routines and practicing whenever they could, the judges announced that this year the rules had changed. Every group would have to be part Day 1 contestants and Part Day 2 and they’d have to choose songs from a pre-set list. Well crap. Of course, tears and pandemonium ensued – as well as some serious heartlessness. Here’s a tip Idol hopefuls: you aren’t going to win the hearts of American voters if you kick a 15 year old sweetheart out of your group at midnight.
After nearly an hour of set-up, watching the groups flounder to get members, and subsequently fight for space to rehearse, the judges were finally ready to begin the judging. And away we go.
“He came out gangbusters…I think they all went off.” – Steven
Right out of the gate, the groups were shaping up to be pretty good. First up was a trio made up of Pia Toscano, Alessandra Guercio and Brielle Von Hugel singing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. The New York natives did an adequate rendition of the song and fulfilled the choreography requirement by pretending they were in a Destiny’s Child video from 1999, but that was enough and they all made it through.
Then came the first sign of trouble after all the pre-audition drama. Jordan Dorsey, who will likely not be getting many votes after this display, ditched his group, 440, after playing prima donna all day and telling every potential new member they weren’t good enough. His new group, who changed their name to 4+1 in honor of the recent addition, also featured audience favorite Robbie Rosen and did an nice version of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” that allowed them to make it to the next round. (And even though Rosen aligned himself with the Jordan bozo, I’m still hoping he sticks around.)
Next, of course, because Idol loves the drama, was Jordan’s abandoned group 440 singing the song also known as “Fuck You.” (Take that TV sensors.) Because Idol cuts up the songs so we only see the faces they’re interested in, we saw both Adrian Michaels and Lauren Turner belt it out despite their frustrations due to the wrench Jordan’s decision threw into their routine. They were able to hold their heads high afterward because after a dramatic display of making them each step forward one by one, they all made it through.
“Oh you guys. I’m so scared of this group.” –JLo
Oh, Tiffany Rios, you nutcase. After searching tirelessly for someone, ANYONE to join her group, Tiffany had scored Jessica Yantz as her partner in crime, but no matter how hard they tried (including serenading the unwilling listeners in the auditorium) they couldn’t find a third person to meet the requirements. So they performed a duet and it was horrific. I didn’t know that “Irreplaceable” could sound so much like a horror movie. Then again, I didn’t think she’d make it past the first audition back in New Jersey, so what do I know? Buh-bye, ladies.
From “Irreplaceable” to irresponsible we go as Kevin Campos completely screws his group, Spanglish, by sleeping in until noon. Ass. The good thing about this little screw-up is that it gives Steven a chance to play the drums to pass the time while everyone waits for Kevin to get his act together. (Did anyone else think he looked like Animal from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem?) When the group finally got up there, Jovany Barreto, Jorge Gabriel and Karen Rodriguez were obviously shaken up by their teammate's dumbassery, but only Jovany and Karen managed to continue on after Steven accidentally told them they’d all make it (and after their onstage celebration made their rejected teammates cry even more). Yikes.
“You fell off the melody…” –Steven
“And forgot all the words.” –JLo
Well, you can’t argue with that; and things continued to underwhelm the judges. Lauren Alaina and her group tried something a little different: they brought Steven up onstage and sang directly to him, even getting him to sing along with them at the end. It was pretty cute. Unfortunately for everyone but Alaina, the judges were impressed with the creativity, but not the vocals. Yeah, you know that little thing that the whole competition is based on. At least Lauren’s teammates were sweet about it.
Then things started to get really, really ugly. The “Nashville Stars” featured crowd favorite Matt Dillard as well as Colton Dixon, but by the time they were done singing the judges were holding their heads in frustration it was so bad. Colton managed to hold his own amongst the muck and walked away as the only one to continue on. This bad streak continued (so brace yourself) with a string of our favorites going off key and piercing ear drums left and right. Shannon Livewell, Brianna Tyson, Janelle Arthur, and Caitlin Koch were all sent packing. Steven’s protégé, Alyson Jaydos, was also sent packing after she just couldn’t cut it (but we could have told you that after her first audition). Many of you may be surprised by Paris Tassin’s expulsion from the competition, but to be honest, her performance of “My Heart Will Go On” last week was actually kind of awful. We all want her to succeed because of her backstory, but the fact is, her voice isn’t strong enough to keep her there.
“I was bathing in your vocals” -Steven
After Ashley Sullivan faked her group out about leaving the competition at nearly 2 a.m., the performed quite well, giving them all a chance to see Ashley’s INSANE happy dance. (I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more of that.)
Then came more rivalries! Gee, their forming quickly. “The Minors” and the “Deep Vs” are in a bit of a rift because James Durbin of the Vs is pissed about The Minors receiving help from their moms, and then there’s the whole issue of the two groups singing the same song. Too bad no amount of mama’s help could have saved the Vs from their terrible audition. Only Caleb Johnson and James Durbin made it through (although I still think his voice is just downright unpleasant, and now he’s a whiner to boot). Just like JLo predicted, Emma Henry gets swallowed up in the competition and is sent home. It’s a wonder she made it past the sudden death round, to be honest.
The Minors, who included Jalen Harris, Sarina Joi Cole and Deandre Brackensick were absolutely fantastic. I highly doubt that they suddenly gained extra pure talent in those 10 hours of rehearsal. It must suck to be Durbin and have all that whining put on national TV only to be proven wrong. Sorry, dude.
“You goin’ to hoot for us?” –Steven
Corey Levoy and Hollie Cavanaugh’s group makes it through despite half of them forgetting the words. Then one dumbass is stupid enough to ask the judges why they were sent through. DON’T LOOK A GIFT STEVEN TYLER IN THE MOUTH DUDE. It’s scary.
The next two groups braved a capella auditions. The first was pretty awful, yet Julie Zorilla from Colombia and Casey “Fraggle Rock” Abrams managed to shine and continue on. (Can I just say again how much I love Casey Abrams? Dude can really sing…dawg.) Next was Naima Adedapo’s group; she and teammate Jacob Lusk were the only fantastic ones (Lusk adding an interesting little twist to the end of the song) but they all made it through and I’m still not sure why.
“I don’t know that song.” –Jacee Badeaux
“Well, you can learn it.” –Brett Lowenstern
“The Four Non-blondes and That Guy” featured Devyn Rush (who famously lost her job after auditioning for Idol), Carson Higgins, Caleb Hawley, and Chris Medina. The only standout here was Carson Higgins who was like an awesome singing cartoon. Only Devyn was sent home and she cried about how wrong they were – and sometimes they are, but thems the breaks homeslice.
Finally, we get to the group that accepted sweet little Jacee Badeaux after his original group rejected him in the wee hours of the morning. He didn’t know the words to “Mercy” but made his own little jingle (he only had a few hours to learn it!) and the judges had mercy on the poor kid and sent him and his group members who included Denise Jackson and Brett Lowenstern who is not only an awesome singer, but one of the sweetest people in that auditorium. It just warms my heart. (Oh no, I sound like my grandma.)
Jacee’s rejectors, let by the mega-annoying Clint Jun Gamboa, have to fumble on stage while the judges grill them about screwing over the sweetest little boy, but they manage to pull out a decent performance and they all continue on. Of course, now that he has to face the problem, Scotty McCreery is all teary eyed and sorry that he didn’t stick up for Jacee. Why don’t you go apologize to him instead of CRYING INTO THE CAMERA LIKE A PRIMA DONNA.
“Can we do it like a million more times and then we’ll move on?” –Jaqueline Dunford
Last group! We made it. Thanks for sticking with me. Three’s Company was the group of couples whose plans were dashed when Nick Fink was sent home (good riddance). Chelsee Oaks and her ex Rob Bolin partnered with the abandoned girlfriend Jaqueline Dunford who quickly took over everything. By the time they reach the stage, Rob is so tired he can’t remember the words and completely gives up on the competition. Buh-bye. Something tells me that he’s totally okay with that. Maybe it’s that vacant look in his eyes. Oh well. The girls make it through, although personally I think Jaqueline’s voice is unpleasant and she should have been sent packing with her boyfriend.
Now, let’s all rest up and get prepared for tonight, when the contestants will each fend for themselves and we’ll see who gets to make it to the Idol stage.