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.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Based on the best-selling prize-winning novel by Gail Carson Levine of the same title Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) lives in a magical world where ogres giants fairies elves and such live together in relative harmony. When Ella was born her fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) gave her a special gift--obedience--which turns out à la Sleeping Beauty to be more like a curse. As the young beauty grows up she's unable to refuse any command which often leaves her at the mercy of unscrupulous personalities--in particular her new stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and wicked stepsisters who get a kick out of torturing her à la Cinderella. Before long the headstrong Ella has had enough. In a bid to regain control of her life she goes on a quest to find Lucinda and free herself from her burden. She picks up some friends along the way à la The Wizard of Oz including a know-it-all named Benny (Jimi Mistry) an elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle) and the dashing soon-to-be-king Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). But Ella also encounters ogres giants and Charmont's uncle the egomaniacal Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) who as the de facto evil despot has caused great discord in the land. Ella has to make the prince realize his uncle is a bad bad man help him own up to his kingly responsibilities restore peace in the land and--of course--fall in love. But first and foremost she has to get rid of that stinkin' gift.
Hathaway who was a breath of fresh air in the 2001 sleeper hit The Princess Diaries solidifies her reputation as a natural comedienne in Ella Enchanted. The sassy forward-thinking medieval lass forced to obey every command despite herself gets into some precarious situations (watch how her nasty stepsisters make her steal stuff from the medieval mall "Galleria of Frell") and Hathaway's endearing qualities--the expressive face the affinity for physical comedy--accentuate the charming story. As her love interest Prince Charmont Dancy (Black Hawk Down) clicks with Hathaway and has the looks and personality Teen Beat readers (or as the magazine's called in the film Medieval Teen) drool over. But it's the rest of the cast who truly complete the film--including Minnie Driver as Ella's fairy nursemaid Mandy who isn't very good at dispensing magic; Mistry (The Guru) as Benny the boyfriend Mandy accidentally turns into a talking book; Elwes who does a complete turnaround from his hero in Princess Bride; Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) as the greedy stepmother; Heidi Klum (yes the model) as a fetching giant; and especially newcomer McArdle who as an elf supposedly destined to only make merry and sing songs really wants to be a lawyer.
In addition to its fresh storyline Ella Enchanted looks great too. In green magical Ireland director Tommy O'Haver (Get Over It) re-created the details of the enchanted medieval kingdom's thatched-roof houses tall castle spires and fields of poppies in colorful comically anachronistic sets and costumes. Die-hard fans of the novel however may feel slighted that O'Haver (along with a long list of writers) veered too far from the original source choosing to cater to the teen set with modern-day MTV touches not found in the more traditional book. The "Frell Galleria " for example with its man-powered wooden escalators is cute but not entirely necessary. Neither are the two musical numbers in the film one in which Ella is ordered to sing at a giant's wedding and bursts into a rousing rendition of Queen's "Someone To Love." But despite whatever targeted audience the movie's going for they'll all be completely entertained by the whole package.